Designing Nature's Half: The Landscape Conservation Podcast

episode artwork

Rob Campellone and Tom Miewald

21 February 2024

47m 16s

Tackling Complex Systems: Landscape Conservation Through Participatory Design Using Models



Guest: Dr. Ronald J. McCormick, an ecologist with the Bureau of Land Management

Topic: Complex Systems Theory and its Application in Landscape Conservation and Design

Key Points Discussed:

1.      Complex Systems Theory: Dr. McCormick sheds light on how landscapes are much more than just areas of land; they're intricate ecological and social systems that require a nuanced understanding.


2.      Ecological Modeling: The conversation explores using conceptual models as tools to better understand these complex systems and their myriad interactions.


3.      Landscape Conservation Design: A favorite topic of Dr. McCormick and our co-hosts, which involves designing sustainable landscapes through collaborative participation to combat the climate crisis and biodiversity loss.

Insights Gained:

1.   The Importance of Scale:  How changing levels within a system can drastically alter the drivers, context, and constraints affecting it.

2.   Model Limitations & Utility:  Discussion around common pitfalls in modeling efforts at various scales – emphasizing that while all models have limitations, some provide useful insights when appropriately applied.

3.   Incorporating Human Factors:  Acknowledging human influence is crucial in landscape conservation design – economic factors, societal needs, and resource availability all play pivotal roles.

4.   Local Knowledge is Key:  Leveraging local expertise alongside scientific data enriches the understanding required for effective landscape management decisions.

Episode Highlights:

1.      Ron emphasizes embracing complexity rather than oversimplifying landscapes into components that may miss critical interconnections or scale-specific phenomena.

2.      He critiques over-reliance on certain types of ecological models without considering broader contexts or potential novel situations like those posed by climate change.

3.      The discussion circles back to practical advice for stakeholders interested in landscape conservation design—highlighting conceptual modeling as a valuable step and stressing the importance of boundaries within any model used for decision-making processes.


1.      The iCASS Platform: Nine Principles for Landscape Conservation Design (Campellone et al., 2018)

2.      Toward A Unified Ecology, 2nd Edition (Allen & Hoekstra, 2015)

3.      Dragnet Ecology – ‘Just the Facts, Ma’am’: The Privilege of Science in a Postmodern World (Allen et al., 2001)

4.      The Ecosystem Approach: Complexity, Uncertainty, and Managing for Sustainability (Waltner-Toews, Kay, and Lister, 2008)

5.       The Collapse of Complex Societies (Tainter, 1988)