Restoration Ecology and Ecological Design

The fields of ecology and environmental studies have long been major strengths of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Faculty members are active in conservation issues where they have conducted research, and worked with local and national public and private agencies to set environmental policies. The University has a wide variety of courses that cover plant, animal, and ecosystem ecology, as well as the social, political, legal, and humanistic aspects of environmental issues. In addition, a statewide system of natural areas and a network of ecosystem restorations, including several on campus, provide research opportunities, as well as practical hands-on experience for students. The world-renowned University of Wisconsin Arboretum in Madison, the site of several long-established ecosystem restorations, is a particularly valuable resource.

Wisconsin is one of the leading centers of research into the preservation, restoration, and management of native plant communities, and the Department of Landscape Architecture was one of the first academic programs in the nation to offer a specialty in this area. Midwestern prairie, savanna, forest and wetland systems have received the most attention.

Some examples of recent studies include:

  • Evaluations of the effects of timing of prescribed burns and/or managed grazing in grasslands and oak woodlands
  • Investigations of invasive species, as well as of rare or endangered species
    Evaluations of mowing regimes or managed grazing as substitutions for burning in grasslands
  • Investigations of the use of native plant community remnants as models for restoration plans
  • Evaluations of various restoration techniques, including relay floristics, seeding rates, and canopy removal programs
  • Mapping and exploring the spatial distributions of grassland remnants and species

Many studies are conducted with the support of, or in partnership with, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the National Park Service, and with non-profit agencies such as The Nature Conservancy.

One of the department’s ecological design interests is “natural landscaping” — the use of native species in settings such as schools, office parks, storm water basins, roadsides, etc. Recent projects include:

  • Working with parents, teachers, and students at several area elementary schools to create nature adventure playgrounds and prairie plantings on the school grounds.
  • Working with community members to create natural plantings in neighborhood parks or in stormwater basins.

Students and faculty have also conducted recent studies exploring healing gardens