Sustaining Landscapes for the Future

Inherent in sustainable landscapes are the qualities of resiliency and adaptive capacity, equity of opportunity, and well-being across space and time, as well as recognition of feedback mechanisms between disparate landscapes and various scales. Our research for the Sustaining Landscapes for the Future challenge is focused on understanding opportunities to coordinate within and across landscapes to foster greater equity and sustainability.


Landscapes are an ideal scale of focus for sustainability science: they connect communities to the natural capital needed for the sustainable provision of ecosystem services like food, energy, clean water, and regulation of key processes like floods and climate. In an interconnected world, where the socioeconomic and biophysical drivers of landscape change are increasingly linked to regional and global processes, decision-making at the landscape scale necessitates an integrated view that recognizes connectivity at different scales. Enhanced connectivity via infrastructure, transportation, telecommunications, commodities trade, markets, and social networks has clear immediate benefits to society, but how this connectivity affects our relationship with nature and the natural capital and sources of the ecosystem services on which we depend, i.e. ‘landscape services’, is opaque. Further, we have few tools that address which biophysical, institutional, economic, and behavioural changes are needed to transition toward a sustainable future in a complex and interconnected world.


    Our mission is to develop method and tools to assess landscape sustainability around the world that take issues of scale and teleconnections into account, and to do research that improves our ability to manage landscapes for a transition to a more sustainable local and global future. Through a variety of means, we foster multi-disciplinary research to expand McGill’s research strengths and community working in this area.

    Our vision is a thriving, multi-disciplinary community of scholars at McGill engaged in collaborative projects to build tools that help manage landscapes for sustainability, informing real-world policy objectives through action-oriented research. To achieve this vision, we provide opportunities for McGill researchers from multiple disciplines to engage in multi-disciplinary research on landscape sustainability.

    To achieve this vision, we provide opportunities for McGill researchers from multiple disciplines to engage in multi-disciplinary research on landscape sustainability. To do this, we:

    • Fund empirically driven research that links theory, policy, and practice
    • Use workshops and seminars to create a transdisciplinary community that can address and answer critical questions about landscape sustainability
    • Train the next generation of leaders in landscape sustainability science
    • Share knowledge generated through scientific publications, policy memos, and scientific and public presentations
    • Build tools and knowledge for co-production of research with relevant stakeholders

    Directions for research

    The core team advances sustainability science through research projects on landscape sustainability, including northern landscapes. We bring together researchers across social and natural sciences to engage in a variety of novel and high reward projects. Numerous other researchers and practitioners within and outside McGill engage with the Landscapes theme through seminars, workshops and other ad hoc opportunities.

    We host workshops on a variety of topics related to landscape sustainability with the goal of advancing multi-disciplinary understanding about how to understand, assess, and achieve landscape sustainability. These workshops lead to synthetic publications on a variety of topics related to landscape sustainability.

    We train graduate students and postdocs in knowledge-to-action science by creating a new generation of teaching and learning courses/internships on landscape sustainability research.

    The Northern Landscapes working group, in collaboration with the Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design (TISED), addresses climate change adaptation and mitigation in Canada's Arctic using high-resolution climate simulations and developing innovative approaches to engineering and infrastructure challenges.


    Theme co-Leads

    Elena Bennett

    Dr. Elena Bennett is an Associate Professor in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences and McGill School of Environment. Her research centers on questions about the design and management of working landscapes (such as agricultural areas) to enhance social-ecological resilience through long-term maintenance of ecosystem services and human well-being. She is co-chair of the Future Earth Core Research Project ecoSERVICES, which aims to set the research agenda for ecosystem services in the coming decade, and a lead author of the IPBES Global Assessment. Dr. Bennett was a Leopold Leadership Fellow (2012), and a Trottier Public Policy Professor (2013-2014). She has won awards for undergraduate teaching, graduate supervision, contributions to campus sustainability, and contributions to the sustainability of her local community. In 2016, she was named one of six NSERC Steacie Fellows.

    Brian Robinson

    Brian E. Robinson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography. His research looks at how people meet their needs through use of ecosystems and natural resources, the role this plays in development in poorer regions of the world, and policies that mediate the connections between people and landscapes. Current projects examine the role that landscapes provide in supporting livelihood needs in developing countries, how environmental policies with good intentions play out in the real world, and how changes in institutions and governance can impacts social and ecological outcomes.

    Laxmi Sushama

    Dr. Laxmi Sushama is a Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics and Trottier Chair in Sustainability in Engineering and Design. She held the Tier II Canada Research Chair in Regional Climate Modelling for two consecutive terms at Centre ESCER and her expertise in science and engineering spans the areas of regional climate modeling, climate change and variability, hydrometeorologic extremes, engineering hydrology and water resources engineering. She is currently leading the Canadian Network for Regional Climate and Weather Processes, which focuses on reducing uncertainty in climate projections and weather predictions for Canada’s northern and Arctic regions. Her research has laid important steps towards improved understanding of land dynamics and its climate interactions and feedbacks at various spatial and temporal scales, and climate-change impacts on Canadian water resources to enhance community and infrastructure resilience. Her research at the Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design (TISED) focuses on climate-sustainability nexus, with a special emphasis on urban environments, associated infrastructure and climate resilience.


    Other Collaborators

    Jan Adamowski, Department of Bioresource Engineering
    Jeff Cardille, Department of NRS
    Luc Chouinard, Department of Civil Engineering
    Oliver Coomes, Department of Geog
    Sylvie De Blois, Department of Plant Science
    Dominic Frigon, Department of Civil Engineering
    Subhasis Ghoshal, Department of Civil Engineering
    Andy Gonzalez, Department of Biology
    Blaine Harvey, Department of Education
    Ferri Hassani, Department of Mining Engineering
    Gordon Hickey, Department of NRS
    Murray Humphries, Department of NRS
    Graham MacDonald, Department of Geography
    Mohammed Meguid, Department of Civil Engineering
    Luis Mirand-Moreno, Department of Civil Engineering
    Saeed Mirza, Department of Civil Engineering
    Hani Mitri, Department of Mining Engineering
    Van-Thanh-Van Nguyen, Department of Civil Engineering
    Yann le Polain de Waroux, Department of Geography
    Stephanie Posthumus, Department of Language, Literature, Culture
    Philip Seguin, Department of Plant Science
    Ishmael Vaccaro, Department of Anthropology
    Christian Von Sperber, Department of Geography

    Funded students & postdocs

    Marie Dade, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Geography 

    Marie's research focuses on how we can create more sustainable landscapes through better management of multiple ecosystem services (the benefits people receive from ecosystems) within socio-ecological systems. Marie examines how different policies and management actions influence access to multiple ecosystem services, and uses this information to identify more effective strategies that can enable landscapes to continue to provide multiple ecosystem services to growing human populations into the future.

    Sarah Harris, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Geography
    Seok Geun Oh, Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics 
    Enzo Angeles Pasco, Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics (co-supervised with Prof. Kumral, Mining Engineering)
    Shahe Shnorhokian, Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics
    Minghan Xu, Department of Mining and Materials Engineering

    2018 Landscape Scholars

    Syed Abidi, Department of Economics
    Morgan Crowley, Department of Natural Resources
    Olivia del Giorgio, Department of Geography
    Dalal Hanna, Department of Natural Resources
    Martha Lee, Department of Epidemiology
    Luci Lu, Department of Geography
    Kerstin Shreiber, Department of Geography
    Duncan Warltier, Department of Natural Resources

    Other students and postdocs

    Mahmoud Alzoubi (Department of Mining and Materials Engineering)
    Vincent Poitras, Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics
    Jesse Rieb, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Natural Resource Sciences
    Caio Ruman, Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics
    Bernardo Teufel, Department of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics


    Related links

    Theme supported publications

    Falardeau, M, EM Bennett, and C Raudsepp-Hearne. 2018. A novel approach for co-producing positive scenarios that explore agency: Case study from the Canadian Arctic. Sustainability Science 14: 205-220.

    Frei, B, D Renard, M Mitchell, V Seufert, B Chaplin-Kramer, J Rhemtulla, and EM Bennett. 2018. Bright spots in agricultural landscapes: Identifying areas exceeding expectations for multifunctionality and biodiversity. Journal of Applied Ecology: 1-13.

    Frei, B, EM Bennett, and JT Kerr. 2018. Heterogenous, multifunctional agricultural landscapes critical for species of conservation concern in agroecosystems with a long history of agriculture. Regional Environmental Change 7: 2105-2115.

    Hanna, D, C Ouellet-Dallaire, S Tomscha, and EM Bennett. 2017. A review of riverine ecosystem service quantification: shortcomings and recommendations Journal of Applied Ecology 55: 1299–1311.

    Nesme, T, GS Metson, EM Bennett. 2018. Global phosphorus flows through agricultural trade. Global Environmental Change 50: 133-141.

    Robinson BE, Masuda Y, Kelly A, Holland MB, Bedford C, Childress M, Fletschner D, Game E, Ginsburg C, Hilhorst T, Lawry S, Miteva D, Musengezi J, Naughton-Treves N, Nolte C, Sunderlin W, Veit P. 2018. “Incorporating land tenure security in conservation” Conservation Letters. 11(2):e12383. doi: 10.1111/conl.12383.

    Sai M, Smailes M, Zheng H, Robinson BE. 2019. “Who is vulnerable to ecosystem service change? Reconciling locally disaggregated ecosystem service supply and demand” Ecological Economics. 157:312-320.

    Zheng H, Wang LJ, Peng WJ, Zhang CP, Li C, Robinson BE, Wu XC, Kong LQ, Li RN, Xiao Y, Xu WH, Ouyang ZY, Daily G. 2019. “Realizing the Values of Natural Capital for Inclusive, Sustainable Development: Informing China’s New Ecological Development Strategy.” Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

    Other related publications

    Rieb, JT, R Chaplin-Kramer, GC Daily, PR Armsworth, K Böhning-Gaese, A Bonn, GS Cumming, F Eigenbrod, V Grimm, BM Jackson, A Marques, SK Pattanayak, HM Pereira, GD Peterson, TH Ricketts, BE Robinson, M Schröter, LA Schulte-Moore, R Seppelt, MG Turner, and EM Bennett. 2017. When, where, and how much does nature matter? BioScience 67(9): 820-833.

    Bennett, EM. 2017. Research frontiers in ecosystem service science. Ecosystems (Special Feature on the Future of Ecosystem Ecology) 20 (1): 31-37.

    Martin-Lopez, B, M Felipe-Lucia, EM Bennett, A Norström, GD Peterson, T Plieninger, C Hicks, F Turkelboom, M García-Llorente, S Jacobs, S Lavorel, B Locatelli. A novel telecoupling framework to assess social relations across spatial scales for ecosystem services research. Journal of Ecosystem Management 241: 251-263. [Link]

    Bennett, E. M. 2017. Research Frontiers in Ecosystem Service Science. Ecosystems. DOI: 10.1007/s10021-016-0049-0. [Link]

    Palomo, I., M. R. Felipe-Lucia, E. M. Bennett, B. Martín-López, and U. Pascual. 2016. Disentangling the Pathways and Effects of Ecosystem Service Co-Production. Advances in Ecological Research. DOI: 10.1016/bs.aecr.2015.09.003. [Link]

    Renard, D., J. M. Rhemtulla, and E. M. Bennett. 2015. Historical Dynamics in Ecosystem Service Bundles. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1502565112. [Link]

    Bennett, E. M., W. Cramer, A. Begossi, G. Cundill, B. Egoh, I. R. Geijzendorffer, C. B. Krug, S. Lavorel, L. Lebel, B. Martin-Lopez, P. Meyfroidt, H. A. Mooney, J. L. Nel, U. Pascual, K. Payet, N. Perez Harguindeguy, G. D.Peterson, A-H., Prieur-Richard, B. Reyers, P. Roebeling, R. Seppelt, M.Solan, P. Tschakert, T. Tschntke, B. L. Turner, P. H. Verburg, E. Viglizzo, P. C.L. White, and G. Woodward. 2015. Linking biodiversity, ecosystem services and human well-being for sustainability: Three Challenges for designing research for sustainability. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 14:76-85. [Link]

    Steffen, W., K. Richardson, J. Rockström, S. Cornell, I. Fetzer, E. M. Bennett, R. Biggs, S Carpenter, W. de Vries, C. A. de Wit, D. Gerten, J. Heinke, C. Folke, G. Mace, L. M. Persson, V. Ramanathan, B. Reyers, S. Sörlin. 2015. Planetary Boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science 347: 6223. 10.1126/science.1259855 [Link]

    E. M. Bennett, G. D. Peterson, and L. Gordon. 2009. Understanding relationships among multiple ecosystem services. Ecology Letters 12: 1-11. [Link]

    E. M. Bennett, S. R. Carpenter, L. Gordon, N. Ramankutty, P. Balvanera, B. Campbell, W. Cramer, J. Foley, C. Folke, L. Karlberg, J. Lui, H. Lotze-Campen, N. Mueller, G.D. Peterson, S. Polasky, J. Rockstrom, R. J. Scholes, and M. Spirenburg. 2014. Toward a more resilient agriculture. Solutions 5(5): 65-75. [Link]

    Montreal’s Foodshed

    The ‘foodshed’ concept is increasingly used to discuss aspects of the geography of urban food systems and particularly for describing linkages between food-producing and food-consuming regions at different scales. Although foodshed analysis is rapidly growing and becoming more spatially-detailed, empirical analysis of food flows to cities and its relevance to landscape sustainability, including implications for multiple ecosystem services, is a major knowledge gap. The core objective of this project will be to map the geographic origins of Montreal’s food sourcing from within Quebec, and specifically the nearby Montérégie region, based on surveys conducted at Montreal farmers markets and potentially food retailers or restaurants.The project asks how do different foodshed configurations affect multiple ecosystem services.

    Developing a framework for analysing landscape sustainability

    This project is a collaboration with ResNet researchers and partners to develop a transdisciplinary framework to assess landscape sustainability. There are three parts to this project: (1) an ecosystem service and natural capital-based framework for assessing the ecological and social sustainability of working landscapes; (2) an analysis of how a network of linked translational ecology working landscapes can use this framework to assess local sustainability and advance the field of translational ecology and effectively scale up to a pan-Canadian understanding; (3) an analysis of ResNet landscapes leading to a proposed set of principles for managing working landscapes.

    The role of property rights in landscape sustainability

    This project is exploring how property rights influence the distribution of ecosystem service benefits across landscapes, and how we can use property rights to plan more sustainable landscapes.

    Using the Adirondack Park landscape in New York State as a case study, we determine who can gain a benefit from the ecosystem services provided on each property within the landscape, given the property right regimes in place.

    These results will help to inform more sustainable landscape planning by determining where property rights regimes should be allocated across landscapes to ensure everyone has access the to the ecosystem services they desire, while also preventing the over-exploitation of these services.

    Landscape dependence among globally marginalized populations

    Pooling together data collected from McGill researchers, the Poverty & Environment Network (PEN), and eight European projects focused on environmental resource use among poorer populations in developing countries, we aim to provide the most comprehensive and global assessment of landscape dependence ever assembled.

    Trade and ecosystem services (landscape scholars project)

    The Landscapes Scholars (LS) cohort is creating a framework for identifying and analyzing the ecosystem services embodied in food commodity value chains and applying this framework to case studies in the USA, Central America and Tanzania.

    The 2018-20 cohort of Landscape Scholars are: Syed Abidi (Economics), Morgan Crowley (Natural Resources), Olivia del Giorgio (Geography), Dalal Hanna (Natural Resources), Martha Lee (Epidemiology), Luci Lu (Geography), Kerstin Shreiber (Geography), and Duncan Warltier (Natural Resources).

    Engineering thresholds for the Arctic

    Future climate change in the Arctic is expected to be among the greatest anywhere on Earth because of the amplification by positive feedbacks in the climate system. Many of these changes relate to risks facing Arctic communities, while also bringing some opportunities. The northern landscapes working group tries to understand the evolving landscapes of the north from a regional Earth System perspective and its implications for engineering systems.

    This project, in particular, focuses on identifying critical parameters and thresholds governing the performance of engineering systems in Canada’s permafrost regions to support development of innovative design techniques for future sustainable engineering systems, using existing regional climate simulations and observations. Furthermore, this project will apply ultra-high resolution engineering-climate simulations for the northern regions of Canada. 

    Fig. 1: Timing and magnitude of abrupt changes in soil moisture (Teufel & Sushama, 2019)

    Read the most recent publication on abrupt changes in soil moisture and fire severity, and the implications this will have for stability of infrastructure, flooding hazards, as well as ecosystem and human activities in the north.

    Mitigation through improved mining equipment management

    Diesel equipment, including trucks and shovels, used in the mining industry significantly contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The main focus of this research is to investigate how much equipment maintenance activities can reduce GHG emissions.

    Using historical truck data, the effect of equipment reliability on fuel consumption is quantified and then analysed in order to understand the relationship between fuel consumption and equipment reliability. The research will quantify the relative importance of equipment reliability on fuel consumption. Thus, the mining operations will develop maintenance strategies that assist in reducing GHG emissions to some extent.

    Pitch or enrich projects

    Pitch & Enrich is an annual event, hosted by the Landscape Theme, where researchers at McGill can pitch novel, high risk/high reward ideas and have them enriched through the feedback of others in the audience. Those who pitch are invited to prepare proposals for seed funding through the Pitch & Enrich program. Currently funded projects include:

    • “Groundwater supply and demand in sub-Saharan Africa” (Aurélie Harou, Department of Natural Resource Sciences
    • “Mennonite land use history and landscape sustainability in Latin America” (Yann le Polain de Waroux, Department of Geography)
    • “Are salt marshes within watersheds dominated by urban or agricultural landscapes sustainable?” (Nagissa Mahmoudi, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences)


    Workshops & Symposia

    If you have an interdisciplinary idea for a workshop, symposium, or other event on a topic related to landscape sustainability and are seeking funding, please let us know.

    Pitch or Enrich, December 2018

    "Pitch or Enrich" brought together McGill researchers conducting research relatd to landscape sustainabilty. Participants had the opportunity to pitch their research projects and enrich the projects of others by offering cross-disciplinary perspectives their proposals.

    Core and other projects are funded through events that will be posted here, but also on a case by case basis. If you want to explore an idea with us, please contact us. See previously funded projects under 'Research Projects'.

    Landscapes Scholar Program, September 2108

    The purpose of this program is three-fold:

    • To create a community of like-minded scholars working at the cutting edge of applied, integrative, interdisciplinary science
    • To use the best of academia to address a real-world problem
    • To hone leadership skills to apply to problem-solving in sustainability science


    This program is open to Ph.D. and MSc. student at McGill who works on landscapes, sustainability, social-ecological systems, or similar research.$5000 funding per year (for 2 years), plus additional training in leadership and interdisciplinary landscape sustainability research, and membership in a unique, cross-faculty cohort of graduate students who share your interest in landscape sustainability. We anticipate the cohort will meet approximately every other week to engage in activities, discussions, or projects. Additional support may be available for related research dissemination and/or group activities.

    The first cohort launched in September, 2018. More information on the scholars and their research is available under 'Research Projects'.

    [Visit the photo gallery here...]

    Co-lead discussion

    Research theme update

    Research theme launch

    Schreiber, K., Hickey, G. M., Metson, G. S., Robinson, B. E., & MacDonald, G. K. (2021). Quantifying the foodshed: A systematic review of urban food flow and local food self-sufficiency research. Environmental Research Letters.[View open access paper]

    Boudet, F., MacDonald, G. K., Robinson, B. E., & Samberg, L. H. (2020). Rural-urban connectivity and agricultural land management across the Global South. Global Environmental Change, 60(January 2020), 101982. Open access. [View paper].

    del Giorgio, O., Crowley, M. A., Lu, L. X., & Schreiber, K. (2020). Building capacity through interdisciplinary graduate collaboration. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 18(9), 479. [View open access paper]

    Macdonald, G. K. et al. (2020). Geographic versus institutional drivers of nitrogen footprints: A comparison of two urban universities. Environmental Research Letters, 15(4). [View paper]

    Oh, S. G., & Sushama, L. (2020). Fluvial inundation parameterization in climate model and its effects on regional climate: a case study of the 2009 Red River spring flood. Theoretical and Applied Climatology. [View paper].

    Oh, S. G., Sushama, L., & Teufel, B. (2020). Arctic precipitation and surface wind speed associated with cyclones in a changing climate. Climate Dynamics, 0123456789. [View paper]

    Ma, S. et al. (2019). Who is Vulnerable to Ecosystem Service Change? Reconciling Locally Disaggregated Ecosystem Service Supply and Demand. Ecological Economics, 157(May 2018), 312–320. [View paper]

    Robinson, B. E., Zheng, H., & Peng, W. (2019). Disaggregating livelihood dependence on ecosystem services to inform land management. Ecosystem Services, 36(February), 100902.[View paper]

    Teufel, B., & Sushama, L. (2019). Abrupt changes across the Arctic permafrost region endanger northern development. Nature Climate Change, 9(11), 858–862. [View paper] [View McGill Newsroom article]

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