Friday, March 2, 2012

Post # 1. Where are we?

First post, let's start simple.  Where is Pound Ridge and how it fits into its larger landscape.  This can be answered in many ways- politically, socially, financially, aesthetically, ecologically, historically, geologically, physically, artistically, culinarily, etc., etc., etc., but because I like thinking about land use let's begin by considering the land use of the Eastern Seaboard, on which Pound Ridge, NY happily sits.

This video maps the densities of light pollution and human population along the Eastern Seaboard in 3-D, creating a rather bumpy surface. Consider any raised area on this map- this place has lights and people, (and therefore) houses, stores, roads, highways, buildings, ect.  These places are said to 'fragment' the landscape and leave the wild forests, meadows and wetlands that much smaller and less connected to one another.  Ecologists now have to ask themselves 'how do animal and plant populations (and their genes) move across a fragmented landscape?'      

This is a picture from space of the Northeast Megalopolis at night.  

This is Pound Ridge's backyard- we are part of this high density fragmented landscape.  Pound Ridge might appear only as a small bump in the video but we have to consider all of the map's mountains that surround us.  We can take a closer look at Pound Ridge (the pink balloon in picture) to see how the high density of the Eastern seaboard affects our local landscape.  We will start at the regional level and zoom into the town level:  

Region level.  The Hudson River is far left, Bridgeport, CT is far right.  
County level: highway 684 is visible on the left side.  

The squares in the picture are houses.  
The town of Pound Ridge.  A semi-fragmented landscape.

We can see that fragmentation happens at many scales; coastal, regional, sub-regional-town, watershed, etc.  What does this leave us with?  We find ourselves left with small bits and pieces of once continuous wild terrain.  Many big animals (big cats, bear, fisher) can't survive in a fragmented landscape like Pound Ridge, while others (gray squirrels and English sparrows) do quite well.  This shifting in animal abundances leaves ecologists and land managers wondering about animal-animal and animal-plant interactions of the future.  What about entire ecosystems?  How do they respond to fragmentation?  It is thought that fragmented ecosystems have reduced production of ecosystem services and biodiversity. 
It is futile to think that our ecosystems are like they were 100 years ago, therefore a growing emphasis is being put on our 'novel (or new) ecosystems' (see abstract here).  We are forced to engage nature in its current shape: chopped up, comprised of new animal and plant associations, invaded by plants from other continents, and possibly worst of all- an abstract notion almost totally removed from the thoughts, feelings and experience of most humans.  

Landowners have to recognize that the only wild places left in town may be their backyards.  We may not see our backyards as prime wildlife habitat, but in many cases it's all we've got left. To live lighter on the land we have to recognize how our actions at home and in our towns (planting trees, cutting down trees, mowing our lawns, etc.) affects the organisms that live there.                  

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