Understanding Ecosystems: Paleoecological and Historical Perspectives
Understanding the operation of ecosystems is critical as we navigate a future characterized by a changing climate, human-induced and natural environmental disturbance, population increase, and the potential reconfiguration of the world’s productive zones, all of which will challenge the resilience of our global social and food systems. WSU research explores ecosystem operation, from the molecular and genetic levels to that of landscapes and populations, to the macroregional level, providing interdisciplinary insights, to reconstructions grounded in the past at a variety of time scales, providing a deep-time perspective that complements narrower temporal frames of reference. Using geological, pedological, botanical, animal, and human population and occupation data, researchers seek to understand the interrelationships and functions of key ecosystem drivers. With special expertise in the Americas, WSU researchers use the lengthy Holocene-era record to reconstruct ancient biotic communities, both those that supported and those exploited by humans, and assess the ways in which past populations adapted to changing conditions, providing lessons in resilience. WSU research into the composition of, and challenges to, forest ecosystems provide insights for modeling future distributions useful for economic and safety considerations, as wildfires become increasingly prevalent. WSU research provides basic understanding of plant ecology, species diversity, and the molecular and genetic bases driving evolutionary relationships, change, and sustainability, providing both critical case studies and broadly applicable modeling or processes. WSU research helps provide the understanding necessary to assist policy makers, evaluating current conditions and developing best practices, and working to develop solutions to the challenges facing humanity.