Update 8/8/04: I'm adding this link to the real definition of neuroecology for all of those who come to this site via search engines looking for information on neuroecology.
New Year's Eve day I was walking through UCLA's sculpture garden when I ran into my first college professor, Hartmut Walter, Professor of Biogeography. Harmut has spent over 30 years trying to answer questions like:
-- How do species persist?
-- How do they avoid extinction?
-- At what point will a species distribution area hasten extinction processes?
-- How can biogeography aid endangered species conservation?
Conserving biological diversity has always been at the heart of his research, as well as a deep interest of mine. During our discussion, Harmut shared his latest realization with me, namely that unless we include human perceptions of the natural ecology into the conservation equations, we will inevitably fail to halt species extinction. Like a true geographer, Harmut is now focused on bringing place back into biogeography.
At its core, geography is the study of place. So while economists study economic theories, economic geographers, like my graduate advisor Allen Scott, analyze economic history to understand the complexity of factors that allow certain economic regions to thrive and others to wilt.
A newly emerging discipline within geography is psychogeography. Psychogeography is concerned with the human perception of place and how it changes over time. In a way, what Hartmut is trying to do is meld psychogeography with biogeography, creating in effect, psycho-biogeography.
As I sat through the neuroesthetics conference last weekend, I was thinking of my conversation with Harmut and realized that there was a further step that needs to be taken in order to bring humans into the conservation solution.
Whereas neuroesthetics uses the latest brain imaging and genetic analysis techniques to understand the neural basis of artistic creativity and achievement, the same techniques could be used to get a more scientific understanding of our perception of nature. And that's when I thought of the term, neuroecology.
Neuroecology uses neurotechnology to understand the neural basis of our perception and appreciation of the natural world.
As I thanked him that day for the rigorous introductory course in biogeography that he put me through, I was grateful for having crossed paths with him when I did. Biogeography solidified my basic understanding of ecological principles.
Update: Photo of Harmut and I this day (taken by my friend Ross)