Human Ecology Mapping

extracted from: College of Liberal Arts & Sciences: Department of Geografy

The widespread use of computerized mapping has greatly expanded the ability of land managers to map many aspects of ecological systems, such as tree species, soil types, wildlife habitat, air quality, and water conditions, among others. Mapping the social and cultural aspects of ecological systems, however, has proved much more challenging. The projects decsribed here illustrate how applying computerized mapping to the study of human ecology can help address this challenge.
Human ecology is a science that takes a systems approach to understanding human-environmental interactions at multiple scales. These interactions can include visible connections, such as hunting, hiking, mushroom harvesting, taking photographs, snowmobiling, and other activities. They can also include invisible connections such as the importance or meanings that people associate with a particular mountain, meadow, seascape, or other location. By capturing these complex connections in the form of computerized maps, human ecology mapping makes it easier to combine them with other mapped data, such as vegetation types, geological formations, and transportation networks.
Human ecology mapping can be used to reach better understandings of the complex ways in which humans are connected to landscapes. Some of the questions that it helps answer include the following.
-Are there areas where meaningful places and the values associated with them are concentrated? How do these areas of concentration differ by age, gender, residency or other demographic characteristics ?
-Are there places where many different values coincide?
-Are there values that tend to overlap or be located close to other values?
-Are there areas where outdoor activities are concentrated? How do these areas of concentration differ by age, gender, residency or other demographic characteristics ?
-Are there areas where many different types of activities take place?
-Are there outdoor activities that tend to be grouped together in the same places?
-Are there places where certain combinations of activities and values coincide?
-Are there particular biophysical and built features, such as vegetation types, water bodies, or road networks, that particular types of meaningful places or outdoor activities are associated with?
By answering these questions and showing the diverse ways in which humans connect with their environment, we aim to help identify areas of the landscape that are especially meaningful for a large number of people or what activities take place in particular locations. These maps also provide information about the types of meanings, and the variety of meanings that people attach to different places. Knowledge about what places are important for which people and why they are important can help land managers understand how proposed management activities, such as building a campground, decommissioning a road, or putting in a cell phone tower, are likely to affect different types of users. This knowledge allows managers to propose actions that are less likely to result in conflicts and that allow for more effective use of financial and human resources.
For an overview of human ecology mapping approaches, see:
Making Sense of Human Ecology Mapping: An Overview of Approaches to Integrating Socio-Spatial Data into Environmental Planning
Human Ecology (2013) 41:651–665
written by: Rebecca McLain, Melissa Poe, Kelly Biedenweg, Lee Cerveny, Diane Besser and Dale Blahna