VOLUME 22 #2

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Up, up and away for students of landscape ecology

Class in hot air balloon
Photo by Evan Krape

To help them appreciate the full scope of landscapes in the real world, not just through images on their computer screens, Jeff Buler ended spring semester on a high note, taking his landscape ecology students up in a hot air balloon.

The goal was to see firsthand landscape elements, such as habitat patches and corridors, and to be able to delineate how energy flows through ecosystems, such as water through a watershed. Students saw natural disturbances, geologic features and how humans shape a landscape.

“Nowadays we have all this satellite imagery and things that we work with to quantify the landscape, and we sort of break it down into these simple elements and simple land cover types—things which don’t really capture all the complexity of the real world,” says Buler, assistant professor of entomology and wildlife ecology.

The group took off at dawn from Pottstown, Pennsylvania, for an hour-long ride over varied terrain.

“Our interest is in landscape ecology from the perspective of wildlife management,” Buler says. “We flew over some state game lands, and [students] could actually see how they were managing the forest and the open areas for wildlife.”Manon says. “We expect that they’ll continue to share these lessons with other teachers at their schools.”

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