Ecological and geographical scale: Parallels and potential for integration

TitleEcological and geographical scale: Parallels and potential for integration
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsSayre N.F.
JournalProgress in Human Geography
Start Page276
Date Published06/2005
ARIS Log Number157705
Keywordsecological scale, geographical scale, human geography, rabgeland ecology, scaling effects, thresholds

Scale has emerged as a major conceptual issue in both ecology and human geography in recent decades, due principally to the appearance of new global problems and processes that challenge conventional disciplinary theories and methods. Yet, very little work has examined ecological and geographical scale side by side or attempted to bring them into constructive engagement. This is unfortunate because human geography can help address ecologists' expressed need for greater attention to political and economic processes affecting ecosystems and because ecological scale can provide needed conceptual and methodological clarity to 'the scale question' in geography. This paper reviews recent debates about scale in the two disciplines and presents the case for integration, not by reduction of geographical problems to ecological ones but on the basis of a shared interest in understanding the complex interactions of multiscaled processes. Three distinctions articulated by ecologists are missing from the debate among human geographers: between scale and level, between empirical and methodological dimensions of scale, and, within the methodological dimension, between grain and extent. I show how these distinctions help resolve recent disputes in human geography, outline a framework for research on scale, and illustrate my points with a brief case study.