Currie lab group

ecosystem science for sustainability science



This site describes the research and teaching of Bill Currie at the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan, along with the scholarly and professional activities of the students and assistants who work under his guidance or advisorship.

Research and graduate student training

The goal of our research program, growing out of a foundation in ecosystem science, is to understand the organization, causal interactions, and dynamics in ecosystems and landscapes and to contribute to the new field of sustainability science. If we can capture the right complexity in our understanding and models of ecosystems and landscapes, we can apply this understanding to represent, study, or simulate current interactions and future scenarios in linked human-natural systems. Understanding these broader, linked systems from a scientific perspective is at the core of the new field of sustainability science.

Quoting from a recent paper by Palmer and others (2005), "Acknowledging that managed ecosystems and intensive exploitation of resources define our future, ecologists must ... forge partnerships at scales and in forms they have not traditionally used. These alliances must act within three visionary areas: enhancing the extent to which decisions are ecologically informed; advancing innovative ecological research directed at the sustainability of the planet; and stimulating cultural changes within the science itself, thereby building a forward-looking and international ecology."

Graduate students in our lab group pursue a wide variety of research projects. Dr. Currie is interested in working with graduate students pursuing research and scholarship in these broad areas:

  • Ecosystem science, or the structure and function of ecosystems including nutrient cycling and nutrient retention (biogeochemistry), land-atmosphere carbon balance, and land-water flows of nutrients;
  • Bridges and tests among theories of ecosystem organization and function (including plant communities and biogeochemistry), computer models of ecosystems, and field observations including field manipulations designed to test system responses to aspects of global change;
  • Applying our understanding of ecosystem structure and function in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to understand landscape change, including human-dominated landscapes;
  • Understanding ecosystem stability, resilience, and change from a systems dynamics and complexity viewpoint. Building a greater understanding of causality in natural systems and linked human-natural systems

Our approaches to research include the following:

  • Ecosystem model development and / or application of existing models for ecosystems research, scenario simulation, or decision support
  • using Geographic Information Systems, often including aerial photography or satellite imagery
  • Fieldwork, either pursued individually or in collaborative groups
  • Continual learning through literature review, attending conferences, seminars, and workshops, collaborations, discussions and teaching
  • Writing, publishing, and presenting research results at conferences

Patchwork landscape

Artist: Sy Ellers