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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Connecting Landscapes with Rivers: Challenges and Future Directions

Thanos Papanicolaou, ProfessorCollege of Engineering - Civil and Environmental Engineering

Landscapes are the lynchpin of rural communities and our emphasis here is on land conservation.  Past research guiding conservation efforts has a fragmented view by assuming that the economics of the rural systems biotic clock will function without the non-economic parts.  Human nature was viewed as decoupled from the non-human.  Furthermore, these efforts have somewhat failed to recognize that we live in a constantly evolving world that is disturbed by intense human activity (agriculture) and shifts in climate.  Surprisingly, there is no national modeling framework for the rural environment that could be used to assess conservation practices while considering, at the same time, complex social and natural system dynamics.  In this research, our long-term vision is to identify scientifically the ecological, economic, and ethical leverage points, or metrics, that have the greatest impact on our ability to achieve conservation goals.  Because we live in a continuously evolving world, we also believe that our biophysiecological dynamic models should be complemented with decision making tools to examine trade-offs and enhance our ability to constantly re-evaluate conservation goals.  While many regional or local efforts achieve in part this decision-support function, new opportunities to take advantage of emerging geoinformatic infrastructure and dynamic modeling tools that capture human and non-human responses and interactions create the need for a new modeling paradigm in nearly all agriculture regions of the country.

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