IMPREX from a landscape ecologist’s point of view

IMPREX from a landscape ecologist’s point of view
Early Career Scientist

Having completed a PhD and worked a job in landscape ecology, I was proud to call myself a landscape ecologist. Now, as an early-career scientist in seasonal hydrological forecasting, the lines identifying who I am and what I do seem to have blurred somewhat - am I a landscape ecologist or a hydrologist?

Well perhaps it doesn’t matter – I think it’s possible to be two (or more) things at once and this might even be a good thing…

For those of you who may not be familiar with what landscape ecology is here is a very quick overview:

“Landscape Ecology draws expertise from the biophysical and socio-economic sciences to explore the ecology, conservation, management, design/planning, and sustainability of landscapes as coupled human-environment systems (adapted from ialeUK,”

Photo: Jess Neumann

No specific mention of floods, droughts, hydropower, urban water, transport or water economy…

… but the IMPREX sectors are all in there and are being researched by landscape ecologists (most of course would probably not say that they ‘do’ hydrology). Likewise amongst other elements, hydrologists rely on land-use models and many consider how we manage the land, future projections of landscape change, design of urban areas and our changing economy in their research.

So, perhaps the two disciplines are not as different as I thought they were before I embarked on the journey of flood forecasting? Yes, there are some marked differences (an ‘observation’ means something a bit different, prediction and forecasting are relatively novel concepts in the ecological realm and ‘extreme’ events take on a whole new meaning) but ultimately, we’re all working towards a common goal of improved understanding, better decision-making and a sustainable future.

Interestingly I asked some fellow landscape ecology scientists what they thought a hydrologist does (those closest to me certainly seem interested in asking what I am doing ‘these days’):

“A hydrologist studies land-based water…flood forecasting…rivers…water flows and properties…water availability…”

A fairly standard answer, although I’m prepared to bet that most people’s perceptions are governed by what we hear in the media – in the UK, we think floods (not droughts), urban freshwater availability (lack of) and (if you read the news recently) tidal lagoons in Wales (but not hydropower).  

I then asked how they thought hydrology tied in with the discipline of landscape ecology:

“Rivers are connecting elements for ecosystem flows, biodiversity and energy…understanding land-use helps us improve natural flood risk management…reduced flood risk improves societal well-being and pressure on the economy…”

Now landscape ecologists are talking IMPREX!

From my perspective, my role to improve flood forecasts at seasonal timescales in the Thames catchment (WP7.3 compound floods) is very relevant to landscape ecology – it ties in with a catchment approach, it considers geology and land-use, I work with stakeholders and ultimately, given that we’ve built thousands of houses in the floodplain – I work towards reducing the societal and economic impacts of extreme flood events. 

Lower Thames catchment

Working on IMPREX has taught me a number of things (too many to list!), but importantly, it’s encouraged me to develop a wider view of interdisciplinary science. I’m still proud to call myself a landscape ecologist, but equally I’m proud to call myself a hydrologist, because I think the two work pretty well together.


Comments (3)
Emma Aalbers

Nice insight in your two 'worlds' Jess! As you write, you learned a lot from working on the hydrological side of things. So I was wondering: are there specific things you noted hydrologists approach differently than landscape ecologists would do? In other words, is there something the hydrologists and climatologists could learn from landscape ecologists, are there things that should be considered more carefully? Or will it mainly be the interdisciplinary approach that could 'lift us to a higher level'?

Bart van den Hurk

Another - well-described - example of the value of regarding things from multiple viewpoints. Boundaries - between landscape ecologists and hydrologists; between weather and climate; between users and providers - are all a matter of definition, and it helps to look at things without them, once in a while

Jess Neumann

Thank you Emma and Bart for your comments - I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

Emma - that's a good question (and quite tricky to answer!)

Normally, with some other scientific disciplines I'd say that I'd encourage people to adopt a wider view of the environment, but one thing I do think hydrologists do well, is they naturally tend to think at a landscape / catchment scale which is great.

From a landscape ecology perspective, I'd like to see us adopt some of the hydrologists approaches to science and bridge the gap between climate, water, land-use change and biodiversity (or society). Many landscape ecologists take a very applied approach, whereas in climate science and hydrology there is a lot more focus on modelling and forecasting and I'd like to find a way to incorporate that more into landscape science (I'm thinking on it!).

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