Sarah Gergel, Professor, Landscape Ecology & Conservation

Landscape Ecology Lab, Forest and Conservation Sciences


We are continually developing creative ways to apply the approaches of landscape ecology – a primarily terrestrial discipline – to problems at the interface of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems as well as social-ecological systems.

Ecosystem Services in River-floodplains

River-floodplain landscapes are among the most highly modified ecosystems globally. We often use of historical records to document long-term anthropogenic impacts to such systems. Interestingly, ecosystem services research has largely proceeded with little grasp of how long-term river-floodplain development underlies contemporary ecosystem services. Basic assumptions of ecosystem service interactions are flawed when using typical methods that overlook history. For example, our work has shown that tradeoffs and synergies can appear inverse when history is disregarded.

Our research on landscape indicators develops the fundamental premise that by monitoring land cover in a watershed, one can better characterize downstream aquatic systems. Along this vein, we have expanded the approach to monitoring of groundwater systems and urban streams.

Landscape Baselines

Our historical ecology research helps expand our knowledge of landscape degradation by growing and refining the tools for long-term landscape assessment. From historical photography to recently declassified cold-war era “spy” imagery, to land surveyor maps, our work has expanded the suite of approaches available to assess long-term landscape change.

A major component of our high spatial resolution research involves aerial photography. Canada’s National Air Photo Library, along with BC Provincial archives (now housed at UBC), include millions of photographs. Our lab has helped create new avenues for exploiting such archives in landscape management. We have linked aerial photographs to a diversity of  ecosystem services with ecological, cultural and economic values. Our innovations have extended remote sensing well beyond the typical range(traditionally limited to 1972) to as far back as the turn-of-the century.

Participatory Mapping

A recent area of inquiry utilizes participatory mapping which can reveal even longer temporal dynamics than historical imagery. We have improved its rigour through contrasts with remote sensing and by showing how to use both in combination. Our special session at US-IALE has now spawned a special issue in the open-access journal LAND

Our students and post-docs have made the following discoveries in this realm: (a) Citizen science data from hikers and mountaineers helps Canadian Wildlife Service improve species distributions models for hard-to-sample regions; (b) Spatial estimates of human impacts can differ by an order of magnitude from non-spatial estimates, thus changing priorities for marine protection; (c) Mapping ecosystem services of interest to First Nations is not only feasible, but can be done in ways which inform forest management.

Landscape and human health

Several recent projects have begun to delve into the realm of human health, ranging from the impacts of urban forests on human health, to role of forests in providing nutrition in rural areas in the Tropics.

Interactive Map of LEL Research Sites


a place of mind, The University of British Columbia

Faculty of Forestry
Forest Sciences Centre
2424 Main Mall,
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada

Forest and Conservation Sciences
Forest Sciences Centre
2424 Main Mall,
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada

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