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Stephen J. Walsh
Lyle V. Jones Distinguished Professor
Office: Saunders 318
Department of Geography
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599
work(919) 962-3867 & (919) 962-0927 (phone)
fax(919) 962-1537 (fax)
Human-Environment Interactions, Remote Sensing, Geographic Information Systems, Spatial Simulation Models


Lyle V. Jones Distinguished Professor; Professor of Geography; Director, Center for Galapagos Studies; Co-Director, Galapagos Science Center, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos Archipelago, Ecuador; Member, Curriculum for the Environment & Ecology; Research Fellow, Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Adjunct Professor, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador.

Developed and leads the Galapagos Initiative at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in association with the Universidad San Francisco de Quito; Dedicated (May 2011) the Galapagos Science Center, San Cristobal Island, Galapagos Archipelago, Ecuador – a facility for research, education, and community outreach and engagement programs in the Galapagos Islands; Galapagos Science Center is approximately 20,000 square feet in size and contains a Microbiology & Genetics Lab, Terrestrial Ecology Lab, Marine Ecology Lab, and Spatial Analysis & Modeling Lab, in addition to faculty, staff, and student offices, conference room, community classroom, and equipment storage and outside terrace space for field experiments and teaching opportunities.

Through an extensive and intensive program of integrated and interdisciplinary research, the primary goals of the Galapagos Initiative are to understand the complex nature of population-environment interactions, challenges related to resource conservation and economic development, global interconnections, science, education, and knowledge transfer programs that benefit UNC-Chapel Hill, our collaborators, and the global community, inform policy and management through investigative and integrative science, develop and translate research technologies to industry and government, and develop insights and understandings to address the cross-cutting challenges that face science, society, and the Galapagos Islands. In addition, the Galapagos Initiative will create a global template for the study of other conflicted and challenged places around the globe that are located in and around protected areas as well as in the many diverse environments where social and ecological sustainability is at risk. The primary question that guides the Galapagos Initiative is “What are the interconnections within the coupled human-natural system in the Galapagos Islands, and how do they affect the social and ecological vulnerability & sustainability of this World Heritage Site?”

Fulbright Scholar (2011-2015), Council for International Exchange of Scholars, Specialists Program – Accepted an invitation to the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia (2012), lectures presented at University of the Sunshine Coast, Griffith University, and Queensland University of Technology; Participated in “Workshop on Climate Change, Social-Ecological Dynamics, and Tourism in Iconic Protected Areas.”

Invited Project Scientist, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute for Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR) (2012-2013); Distinguished Teaching Award for Post-Baccalaureate Instruction, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2008); Awarded Honors for Lifetime Achievement, Southeastern Division of the Association of American Geographers (2007); Elected Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (2006); Edward J. Taaffe Distinguished Lecturer, Department of Geography, Ohio State University (2004); Ida Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor, Department of Geography, University of Iowa (2002); Elected President (2003-2005), Vice-President (2000-2002), and Secretary (1992-1994), Southeastern Division of the Association of American Geographers; Awarded National Research Honors for Distinguished Scholarship, Association of American Geographers (2001); Awarded Research Honors, Southeastern Division of the Association of American Geographers (1999); Awarded Outstanding Contributions Award and Medal from the Remote Sensing Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers (1997); Named the Amos H. Hawley Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1993-96); Served as Director, Spatial Analysis Unit, Carolina Population Center (1992-97), and faculty advisor to the Spatial Analysis Unit (2000-present); Elected Chair of the Geographic Information Systems (1998-2000) and Remote Sensing (1994-1996) Specialty Groups of the Association of American Geographers (AAG).

Editorial Board Member, Annals of the Association of American Geographers & GeoCarto International, and formerly on the Editorial Broads of Plant Ecology, Journal of Geography, The Professional Geographer, & Southeastern Geographer; Served on the Dissertation Improvement Panel for the Geography and Regional Science Division of the National Science Foundation (1997-1999); Member of Review Panels, National Institutes of Health (2001, 2005); Member, Committee of Visitors, National Science Foundation (2003).

Co-Editor (Walsh & Mena) of a Book Series on the Galapagos Islands, “Social, Terrestrial, and Marine Interactions in the Galapagos Islands,” with Springer Science and Business Media (2011); launched the Book Series as Co-Editor (Walsh & Mena), “Science and Conservation in the Galapagos Islands: Frameworks & Perspectives” (2013); Series Co-Editor (Walsh & Mena) for the 2nd book in the Series, “Evolution from the Galapagos: Two Centuries after Darwin,” (Trueba & Montufar, Guest Editors), (2013), and the 3rd book in the Series (Walsh & Mena, Series Co-Editors), “The Galapagos Marine Reserve: a Dynamic Social-Ecological System,” (Denkinger & Vinueza, Guest Editors), (In Press).

Co-Editor of special issues in the Journal of Vegetation Science (1994), Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing (2002, 2008), Geomorphology (2003, 2011), GeoForum (2008), Journal of Land Use Science (2008).

Co-Edited a series of books for Kluwer Academic Publishers – “GIS and Remote Sensing Applications in Biogeography and Ecology,” (2001); “Linking People, Place, and Policy: A GIScience Approach,” (2002); and “People and the Environment: Approaches for Linking Household and Community Surveys to Remote Sensing and GIS,” (2003); Co-Editor for Elsevier, “Mountain Geomorphology – Integrated Earth Systems,” (2003); “The Changing Alpine Treeline,” (2009); and “Geospatial Technologies and Geomorphological Mapping,” (2012).


•General Areas of Research: Geographic information systems, remote sensing, spatial analysis & modeling, physical geography, and human-environment interactions.

•        Spatial Pattern at the Alpine Treeline Ecotone: Interrelationships between scale, pattern, and process are explored in the examination of the alpine environment including questions associated with alpine treeline, disturbance regimes, climate change, and biogeographic and geomorphic processes affecting landscape composition and spatial pattern.

•        Human-Environment Interactions: Relationships between environment and population in Thailand and Ecuador are examined with particular emphasis on the linkages between deforestation, agro-forestry systems, urbanization, population demographics and socio-economic patterns, household livelihoods, land use/land cover change, social-ecological vulnerability, and island sustainability.

•        Coupled Human-Natural Systems: The integration of people, place, and environment are considered through the lens of Complexity Theory in which nonlinear relationships, feedback mechanism, emergent behavior, and complex adaptive systems are examined using multi-agent based models and spatial and statistical analyses. The general goal is to understand pattern-process relations within the context of a dynamic environment, evolving characteristics of multiple agents, interaction mechanisms, rules of behavior, and scenarios of change.

•        Geographic Methods: Remote Sensing, GIS & spatial analysis and modeling approaches are examined within the context of landscape characterization and representation of social and biophysical systems with particular emphasis on the use of spatial models for landscape characterization and simulation of the drivers of LULC change.


            My research examines coupled human-natural systems and land use/cover dynamics in the frontier environments of the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon, the Galapagos Islands, and in rural Nang Rong District, Northeastern Thailand. This research recognizes that at local, regional, and global scales land use changes are significantly altering land cover types and their spatial structures, perhaps at an accelerating pace. This transformation of the Earth’s surface, particularly through deforestation, agricultural extensification, secondary forest succession, and urbanization, is linked to a variety of scientific and policy issues articulated by international organizations, such as, the International Human Dimensions Program and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program. In addition, program initiatives of the National Science Foundation (e.g.,Coupled Natural-Human Systems Program), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (e.g., Land Cover/Land Use Change Program), and the National Institutes of Health (e.g., National Institutes for Child Health and Development Program and the former Roadmap Initiatives) revolve around the human dimensions of land use/cover change and the proximate and distal causes and consequences of such changes.

            My research also emphasizes pattern-process relationships at the alpine and sub-alpine environments of Glacier National Park, Montana, the Northern Rocky Mountains, and, more recently, the mountains of the US American West. With particular emphasis on the alpine treeline ecotone, the biotic and abiotic factors and disturbance regimes are examined, particularly, those that are mediated by local to global forcing functions that affect the loss of biodiversity, and represent ecological indicators of climate change. More broadly, my research seeks to understand ecological, biogeographic, and geomorphic factors affecting landscape patterns at a host of space-time scales.

            Finally, my research focuses on landscape characterization through statistical and spatial modeling and spatial analysis approaches. Geospatial data and spatial digital technologies (e.g., geographic information systems, satellite remote sensing, and global positioning systems) and approaches are developed and applied to study ecological systems and linked social-ecological systems. Of particular interest are new developments in complexity theory that conceives the world as consisting of self-organized systems, either reproducing their state through negative feedbacks with their environment or moving along trajectories from one state to another as a result of positive feedbacks.

            Biocomplexity combines social-ecological co-evolution and adaptive resilience to study coupled human-natural systems. Biocomplexity is described as the “properties emerging from the interplay of behavioral, biological, chemical, physical, and social interactions that affect, sustain, or are modified by living organisms, including humans” – it encompasses the complex interactions within and among ecological systems, the physical systems on which they depend, and the human systems with which they interact.

            My research in biocomplexity and system dynamics are motivated by questions that seek to understand the following broad areas of concern:

•        How does a complex systems approach help explore the internal mechanisms of system dynamics and provide plausible explanations?

•        How do results derived from applying complexity theory help in understanding decision-making across levels of social organization ranging from individual households to national governments?

•        How do fundamental characteristics of complex dynamics of coupled natural-human systems limit their predictability, sustainability, and resilience?

•        How can economic development and resource conservation be reconciled, and how can social and ecological systems adapt, leading to sustainability?

•        What are the impacts of climate change on the behavioral shifts and adaptive capacities of social, terrestrial, and marine systems?

•        Can Agent Based Models be used to explore the environment as well as scenarios of land use/land cover dynamics by integrating the characteristics of agents (e.g., individuals and households), a changing environment, neighborhood associations, and interaction rules?

•        Can the goal of exploring “what if scenarios” of land use/cover change through spatial simulations provide links between theory and model outcomes, and trajectories of land change set by the pathways of human-environment interactions?

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