At the interface of humans and nature

November 29, 2012

With the world population passing seven billion earlier this year, human activities are affecting more and more natural spaces as subdevelopments pop up in former corn fields and strip malls edge out forests. The ways in which people are changing and interacting with ecosystems is an emerging area of sustainability research, and scientists hope to understand how humans and nature can live in harmony.

A new book published by the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) focuses on these issues. Urban-Rural Interfaces: Linking People and Nature presents the complexity involved in the interactions of humans and ecosystems. Organized into three sections, the book addresses changes in ecosystems, changes in human dimensions, and the interaction of human and natural systems.

How the urban-rural interface is defined and studied are central issues of the book. An interface can be a change in physical appearance, as forested countryside gives way to neighborhoods and tall city buildings, for example. It can also involve different people as traditional rural residents begin rubbing elbows with suburban or urban dwellers.

"These two groups have different sets of values," explains David N. Laband, an editor of the book. "When these people interact, there are social, political, and economic interfaces. Political desires may, and frequently do, clash when a vote encompasses citizens from both areas. On the other hand, people from urban areas may patronize nearby farmers markets creating a positive interface."

Defining the impacts of these interfaces and explaining their complexities are what drove the creation of the book, says Laband. Because there are so many types of interfaces and interactions, the editors of the book wanted to include discussion from a wide variety of researchers. The inter-disciplinary approach helps to fully explain both the ecological impacts of urbanization and how humans feel about the impacts and the potential solutions.

"The problems, challenges, and change that occur along the urban-rural interfaces are complex from a scientific perspective as well as a policy perspective," explains Laband. "The diverse viewpoints we bring together reflect both the richness and complexity of the interfaces themselves."

The book is a resource for a variety of readers - urban planners, resource managers, farmers, and concerned citizens. ASA president Ken Barbarick, CSSA president Jeff Volenec, and SSSA president Gary Pierzynski suggest reading the book with the idea that almost every urban development will affect the rural surroundings.

"This book provides an insightful and thorough analysis of the benefits and hazards of urban and rural interactions when they are in close proximity to each other," say the presidents. "It is an excellent guide for confronting and solving these modern-day encounters."
Urban-Rural Interfaces: Linking People and Nature (ISBN: 978-0-89118-615-1) is 352 pages, hardcover, and available from the ASA, CSSA, and SSSA for $115 at, by calling 608-268-4960, or by emailing

American Society of Agronomy

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