Bridging Landscape Ecology and Landscape Architecture

by Taryn Wiens

Grounding Root System Architecture
ASLA 2015 Student Research Honor Award. Grounding Root System Architecture, Gwendolyn McGinn, Associate ASLA, University of Virginia. Faculty Advisor: Julie Bargmann. / image: Gwendolyn McGinn

ASLA’s Ecology & Restoration Professional Practice Network (PPN) invites you to a discussion on novel ecosystems this Friday, October 4, 12:30 p.m.–1:30 p.m. (Eastern). [The recording is now available.] Join the conversation!

Richard Hobbs defines a novel ecosystem as “an ecosystem that consists of new combinations of species that have not previously coexisted, and/or new configurations of environmental factors such as changed climate or altered soil properties.” The basic premise that such ecosystems exist seems straightforward, yet has been highly contentious and marks a significant shift in perspective.

This webinar panel brings together designers and ecologists to unravel the nuances of “novel ecosystems” as a conceptual framework, and the implications for work in restoration, conservation, and design.

Traditionally, we measure restoration efforts against an arbitrary historical baseline, which made the goals of restoration very simple: return the site to the way it was before humans. The very existence of novel ecosystems shows traditional restoration and ecological preservation to rely on various false premises: that human effects are always negative; that going back to a particular time is always possible (and always desirable); that there are any landscapes still untouched by human influence.

While accepting the framework of novel ecosystems introduces a lot of ambiguity in what our ecologically-minded goals should be for any given site, it also begins to align the intentions of landscape ecology and landscape architecture, and provides a bridge for working and thinking together more closely.

Many questions arise from this shift that we will discuss but not fully answer in this webinar, including: How do social systems play a role in the management of novel ecosystems? How do we design for sites that require ongoing intervention? How do we make decisions to act when we do not yet know what the effects of those actions might be? Can we design sites to be continuously experimental and responsive to what we observe? How can designers be more aware of the science-based ecological effects of their proposals? How does public perception of these ecosystems change the conversation? How do we take responsibility for the capitalism-driven environmental degradation and social marginalization that precedes many novel ecosystems while still embracing their merits and designing a new way forward?


  • Katharine Suding, Ph.D., Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Peter Del Tredici, Urban Ecologist, Horticulturist, and author of Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast: A Field Guide
  • Julie Bargmann, Professor, Landscape Architecture, University of Virginia, Founder & Principal, D.I.R.T. studio

The panel will be moderated by Alex Felson, Ph.D., ASLA, Deputy Executive Director and Director of Resilience Design at the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation, and Taryn Wiens, MLA Student at the University of Virginia.

Below are four short readings that attendees are also invited to read:

Novel Ecosystem: Interviews with Richard Hobbs, Joy Zedler, and Peter Del Tredici, with annotation by Alex Felson (excerpted from the University of Virginia LUNCH Design Journal, Issue 14, edited by Samuel Johnson, Hutch Landfair, Sherry Ng and Taryn Wiens).

Other Order: Sound Walk for an Urban Wild, by Peter Del Tredici and Teri Rueb, Arnoldia 75, no. 1 (August 2017): 14-25.

Managing the Whole Landscape: Historical, Hybrid, and Novel Ecosystems, by Richard J. Hobbs, et al., Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12, no. 10 (2014).

Unintentional Landscapes, by Matthew Gandy, Landscape Research 41, no. 4 (2016): 433-440.

For more ASLA webinars, visit the ASLA Online Learning website to register for upcoming live presentations and access our library of recordings.

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