Three Phenomenological Domains of Landscape

We distinguish three phenomenological domains that characterize the landscape entity (Fig. 2.2):

Fig. 2.2 The three possibilities to approach the landscape paradigm: Neutrality-based landscape (a landscape exists in any way, although patterns and functions are not distinguished by the observer), Individual-based perceptional landscape (the landscape is the part perceived by a species), and finally the Individual-based cognitive landscape that is a particular status of intentional description of the surroundings (see Dennet 1983)

Neutrality-based landscape Individual-based cognitive landscape

Individual-based perceptional landscape

Individual-based perceptional landscape

(1) Individual-based perceived landscape. The landscape is the result of organism perception, and is a species-specific entity. In this case a specific landscape exists for every organism or process that selects from the neutral landscape the parts with which it enters into a perceptual relationship. This idea can be extended to processes, considering the "behavior" of the processes. It could seem a forced manipulation of the reality, but we discuss this point in detail later, trying to demonstrate the efficacy of the approach.

(2) Individual-based cognitive landscape. The landscape is the result of cognitive elaboration. In this case the landscape is considered as a system, and the observer opens a window on the system. Knowledge of the system is only partial, and is reduced to the spatio-temporal window of the observer. The observer interacts with the object observed and modifies its descriptive attributes, and the same observation becomes a perturbative entity to the observed object.

(3) Neutrality-based landscape. The landscape is a neutral entity that exists without organism interference and interpretation. In this case, the landscape is composed of functional and structural units created by the aggregation of individuals of the same species (populations) and different species (communities). The aggregations have self-organizing capacities under the pressure of stochastic events. A plethora of studies in landscape ecology have assumed this perspective. The neutrality-based landscape is composed of a mosaic of patches created by aggregation of individuals and by spatial processes. According to this perspective the landscape is a source of possible perceptions and/or cognitive interpretations that depends on the sensory perception of organisms. The neutrality-based landscape is a permanent source of information available for evolutionary processes. The importance of this perspective is underestimated in the adaptative and evolutionary processes of living systems.

In the chapter dedicated to the ontogenesis of the landscape (Chapter 5), I will discuss in more detail the role of the three perspectives. Every perspective contributes to the organization of a complete landscape that is the meta-domain created by the domains composing it.

In order to respect the paradigm of environmental complexity, we have to accept all three of the perspectives which will be discussed in detail in the following chapters.

It is frequent in the realm of science to work inside specific areas without considering other areas that could address the same problem in different ways. Unfortunately, we fail to consider several realities according to the different sciences. Rock and earth dynamics are described by the geological sciences, and we associate soil and earth with such problems. Finally we are convinced that geology is something that exists. The same story applies to biology: We separate the living organisms from their environmental context, and the discipline moves from a descriptive realm into an existential realm.

Such an attitude separates the world into compartments out of which it is extremely difficult to explore the inherent complexity. For this reason, the landscape is an existing reality for ecologists and geographers, but not for economists or social scientists.

The "real world" is the product of description of a reality by specific disciplines, which produces a dramatic separation of this description into unique worlds that have difficulty communicating a complete understanding of the planet's complexity. In the end we are convinced that geology, ecology, and geography are separate components of the complexity, even though they exist only in our mind!

Why do we now ask for a new science? The reply to this question is complicated. Today humanity has a global view of its problems. At any time today we can be aware of events that happen in different parts of the world. Events are the basic component of our dynamics. The observer (individual, society) has a planet-scaled vision of the problems and is aware of direct and indirect influence of processes that are separated only at their origin. Like the water in a river catchment, separate springs convey water in the main streams and channels until they coalesce into a single river.

It must be considered in this metaphor that landscape science is the main river. If you move in to examine the details, or the individual headwater springs, you can distinguish the separate domains. The hierarchy and the relationships between domains are responsible for the observed complexity.

When we adopt a landscape view, it is likely to be at the mouth of the river. It is not possible to distinguish the origin of the water. The different typologies of water have been blended together, and are now an undistinguishable collection. Often we analyze the details, and from their sum we reconstruct the complex system produced. This procedure is inconvenient and inefficient in terms of advancement of human thinking. The procedure should be reversed so that we start from the complex systems, and, by their emergent properties, we can move toward the "spring" of the catchment and discover its details.

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