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Ecology and Environmental Justice: Understanding Disturbance Using Ecological Theory

Part of the Human-Environment Interactions book series (HUEN,volume 3)

Abstract

The different cultures of social equity and ecological science can be bridged by an enhanced understanding of the occurrence of environmental hazards and benefits. Knowledge about ecological disturbance improves understanding of how socio-ecological systems respond to the events that disrupt the structure of systems and the flows of resources within them. It is important to recognize that not all instances of a kind of event, such as fire or flood, will be equally disruptive. In part this is because there are many ecological modifiers, such as biological structure of an ecosystem, topography, and the specific weather and other conditions in place before and during an event, that affect individual events. Furthermore, the human, institutional, and infrastructural capitals available in different locations operate along with biophysical factors that modify disturbance and the response to it. Biophysical response to disturbance is motivated by successional capacity, the resource base of the site, and the neighboring landscape context. Environmental injustices are remarkably persistent due to biophysical patterns of these modifying factors in space. Ecological theory embodies the understanding of disturbance patterns through time and space, lays out the assumptions about the structure of affected systems, and extends the knowledge base beyond the memory of people who must plan for and react to environmental disturbances and stresses.

Keywords

  • Disturbance
  • Successional capacity
  • Topography
  • Equity
  • Ecological modifiers

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The term “architecture” is used in this chapter in two senses. Here, it refers to the three-dimensional structure formed by the dominant plants in an area and the other physical structures that the biological organisms and processes generate. Hence, the modifier “biotic” is used in this case. In other locations in the chapter, architecture is used in its usual way to mean built structures and the other constructed artifacts of human settlement.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Charlie Nilon and George Middendorf for providing the stimulus for this chapter. This is a product of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, LTER, with support from NSF DEB 0423476, BCS-BE 508054, and SBE-HSD 0624159.

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Correspondence to Steward T. A. Pickett .

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Pickett, S.T.A., Boone, C.G., Cadenasso, M.L. (2013). Ecology and Environmental Justice: Understanding Disturbance Using Ecological Theory. In: Boone, C., Fragkias, M. (eds) Urbanization and Sustainability. Human-Environment Interactions, vol 3. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-5666-3_3

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