Mediterranean Landscape Dynamics Project (Proposal title: Land-Use and Landscape Socioecology in the Mediterranean Basin: A Natural Laboratory for the Study of the Long-Term Interaction of Human and Natural Systems)

All of modern society depends ultimately on the products of agriculture and animal herding. When this agropastoral economy first appeared in the Mediterranean basin in the early Holocene, nearly 10,000 years ago, it represented a dramatic reorganization of human ecology. It involved increasingly intensive efforts by farming peoples to control environmental factors favorable to the life cycle of domestic plants and animals, with a consequent cascade of complexly interlinked effects on regional landscapes and human society. Agropastoral land use remains the most significant way in which humans impact natural landscapes, and the recursive social effects of these impacts are important global issues. However, landscape evolution takes place over the course of decades, centuries, and even millennia. Even the loss of a landscapes ability to support a people and their subsistence economy is often the result of longer-term changes that are most apparent at the resolution of the prehistoric record. Only by studying this long-term record can people truly begin to appreciate the real consequences of past and present land-use decisions on earths landscapes and society and use this understanding to make more informed decisions today. The longest and best-studied record of the ways in which human activities have transformed the world is found in the Mediterranean Basin, encompassing both the earliest known agricultural land use and the earliest civilizations to become dependent on these human-managed socioecosystems. Decades of intensive study by archaeologists, geoscientists, and ecologists have amassed rich and diverse data about human-environmental interaction in this region. This interdisciplinary research project will integrate this information with recent advances in geospatial modeling and agent simulation to create a natural laboratory for investigating the long-term social and ecological consequences of alternate land-use practices. In this project, the modeling laboratory will be used to study (1) the effects the of growth in agropastoral systems on biodiversity; (2) the changing impacts of land-use intensification and diversification on landscapes, their resilience, and vulnerability to degradation; and (3) the long-term sustainability of human maintained socioecosystems in varying environmental and social contexts. The study will focus on two ecologically diverse regions at opposite ends of the Mediterranean Basin, eastern Spain and the southern Levant in Jordan. These two regions encompass much of the social and natural variability of the entire Mediterranean Basin. This project will generate significant new knowledge about long-term consequences of alternative land-use practices that can help communities make more responsible and effective decisions about land use today. It will also generate integrated archaeological and paleoenvironmental datasets, and dynamic land use-landscape modeling algorithms that will be disseminated via the internet, conferences, and publications for use by researchers addressing other socioecological questions. The research is tightly integrated with an active educational program for undergraduate and graduate students especially geared towards hands on training in the research process, and collaborative transdisciplinary work. This includes a K-12 outreach partnership with the Arizona Geographic Alliance and collaboration with educators to co-develop and disseminate curricula that enables science learning within the context of core requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation. This project is supported by an award resulting from the FY 2004 special competition in Biocomplexity in the Environment focusing on the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems.

Lead Investigator: 
Emergent Properties
Time Lags
Reciprocal Interactions
geospatial modeling, agent simulation
Mediterranean Basin
Temporal Scope: 
10,000 - 3,000 BP
Spatial Scope: 
Mediterranean Basin; focus areas in E. Spain and W. Jordan
Natural System: 
Mediterranean landscapes
Human System: 
agropastoral, human ecology