Scholarly work on science and art

The bread and butter of academics are their peer-reviewed papers published in abstruse journals. Here are some of what I consider to be my more interesting or important papers on a range of topics in science, art, and architecture. If you want to browse all of my technical papers, they’re posted on the publications page of my Harvard University web site.

Foundation species | Tipping points & regime shifts | Carnivorous plants | Ants | Mangroves & salt marshes


Landscape artLandscape architecture | SciArt & SciComm 

Foundation species in ecological systems

Since moving to Harvard Forest in 2001, much of my research has focused in one way or another on foundation species – one among many types (and I would argue the pre-eminent type; see Ellison and Degrassi 2017) of “important” species in ecological systems. My dissertation work in salt marshes (in the 1980s) and post-doctoral work in mangrove forests (late 1980s through the 1990s) also involved foundation species (Spartina alterniflora and Rhizophora mangle, respectively), but at the time I was doing that research, I didn’t place it in the broader conceptual framework of foundation species. Of the 17 papers I’ve published on this topic since 2005, the following seven are those I consider to have the most lasting value.

  1. A. M. Ellison (2019) Foundation species, non-trophic interactions, and the value of being common. iScience 13: 254-268. [ pdf ]
  2. A. M. Ellison & eight others (2019) Species diversity associated with foundation species in temperate and tropical forests. Forests 10: 128. [ pdf ]
  3. S. Record, T. McCabe, B. Baiser & A. M. Ellison (2018) Identifying foundation species in North American forests using long-term data on ant assemblage structure. Ecosphere 9: e02139. [ pdf ]
  4. J. A. Kendrick, R. R. Ribbons, A. T. Classen & A. M. Ellison (2015) Changes in canopy structure and ant assemblages affect soil ecosystem variables as a foundation species declines. Ecosphere 6: 77. [ pdf ]
  5. A. M. Ellison, M. Lavine, P. B. Kerson, A. A. Barker Plotkin & D. A. Orwig (2014) Building a foundation: land-use history and dendrochronology reveal temporal dynamics of a Tsuga canadensis (Pinaceae) forest. Rhodora 116: 377-427. [ pdf ]
  6. A. M. Ellison, A. A. Barker Plotkin, D. R. Foster & D. A. Orwig. 2010. Experimentally testing the role of foundation species in forests: the Harvard Forest Hemlock Removal Experiment. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 1: 168-179. [ pdf ]
  7. A. M. Ellison & 19 others. 2005. Loss of foundation species: consequences for the structure and dynamics of forested ecosystems. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 9: 479-486. [ pdf ]

Tipping points and regime shifts in ecological systems

Tipping points, regime shifts, and other abrupt changes are characteristics of many complex systems, including the climate system that supports the world around us. One strand of my long-term research has been to look for indicators of impending abrupt changes in ecological systems. In this work, I have used mathematical and statistical modeling together with experimental work with the microecosystem that lives within the water-filled leaves of the carnivorous northern pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea. For this ecosystem, Sarracenia is a foundation species. Of the four papers highlighted here, I’m particularly pleased with the one led by Jennie Sirota, an undergraduate student from North Dakota State University, who worked on the project as a participant in Harvard Forest’s Summer Research Program

  1. M. K. Lau, B. Baiser, N. J. Gotelli & A. M. Ellison (2018) Regime shifts, alternative states, and hysteresis in the Sarracenia microecosystem. Ecological Modelling 382: 1-8. [ pdf ]
  2. J. Sirota, B. Baiser, N. J. Gotelli & A. M. Ellison (2013) Organic-matter loading determines regime shifts and alternative states in an aquatic ecosystem. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. 110: 7742-7747. [ pdf ]
  3. B. T. Bestelmeyer, A. M. Ellison & 10 others (2011) Detecting and managing abrupt transitions in ecological systems. Ecosphere 2: art129. [ pdf ]
  4. R. Contamin & A. M. Ellison (2009) Indicators of regime shifts in ecological systems: what do we need to know and when do we need to know it? Ecological Applications 19: 799-816. [ pdf ]

Carnivorous plants


Mangroves & salt marshes

Landscapes: perception and reality

I began thinking about the perception of landscape and its influence on ecology when I was invited to give a talk to the Studio Art department at Boston University in 2009. I worked on the talk for almost a year before actually delivering it, and then spent another year writing it up, finally finishing it while I was a writer-in-residence at the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest in 2010. It was another three years before it appeared in print. This line of research continues to intrigue me, and resurfaces at unpredictable intervals and in unexpected ways.

  1. A. M. Ellison (2014) Preserving the picturesque: perceptions of landscape, landscape art, and land protection in the United States and China. land 3: 260-281. [ pdf ]
  2. A. M. Ellison (2013) The suffocating embrace of landscape and the picturesque conditioning of ecology. Landscape Journal 32: 79-94. [ pdf ]

Landscape architecture

When I was on sabbatical in 2016, I spent a semester at Yale in their Institute for Biospheric Research. During that time, I continued my research on landscapes and ecology. I had the good fortune while I was there to get to know Alex Felson, a landscape architect and landscape ecologist. We began a collaboration focused on incorporating ecological theory into landscape design, primarily through the deliberate design and installation of food webs. So far this idea remains more conceptual than realized, but the potential remains.

  1. A. J. Felson & A. M. Ellison (2021) Designer food webs: from build-it-and-they-will-come to intentionality-in-design. Frontiers in Ecology & Evolution 9: 582041. [ pdf ]

SciArt & SciComm

Since 2015, I have been collaborating with artist and designer David Buckley Borden on projects bridging art and science. Our collaboration and its products are described in detail on the SciArt page

In fall 2020, I was partnered with photographer Eric Zeigler in the Bridge Virtual Residency program supported by the SciArt Initiative. We have been working together on integrating photography and ecology in new and creative ways. The first year of our collaboration was documented in a bi-weekly blog. Since the residency ended in winter 2021, we have continued to work together online, in person, and in the field.

Here are the papers I have written with David and with Eric about the intersections of art, design, and science.

  1. Zeigler, E. & A. M. Ellison (2022) Learning to see differently. Pages 146-159 in J. Lee, S. Beene, X. Chen, W. Huang, L. Okan, an F. Rodrigues, editors. Seeing Across Disciplines: The Book of Selected Readings 2022. Stockton: International Visual Literacy Association. [ pdf ]
  2. A. M. Ellison & D. Buckley Borden (2022) Constructive friction creates a third space for art/science collaborations. In review for publication in Leonardo 55: 233-238. [ pdf ]
  3. A. M. Ellison & D. Buckley Borden (2021) Hemlock Hospice: Landscape ecology, art, and design as science communication. Pages 488-502 in H. S. Rogers, M. K. Halpern, D. Hannah, and K. de Ridder-Vignone, editors. The Routledge Handbook of Art, Science, and Technology Studies. London: Routledge [ pdf ]
  4. D. Buckley Borden & A. M. Ellison (2019) The university campus as a space for public art. Boston Art Review 04: 110-115 [ pdf ]
  5. A. M. Ellison & D. Buckley Borden (2019) Ecological art: aesthetics, communication, provocation, or call to action. The Goose 17(2): Article 3 [ pdf ]
  6. A. M. Ellison, C. J. LeRoy, K. J. Landsbergen & E. Bosanquet (2018) Art/science collaborations: new explorations of ecological systems, values, and their feedbacks. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 99: 180-191. [ pdf ]
  7. A. M. Ellison & D. Buckley Borden (2018) Learning from art: Hemlock Hospice inspires new ways of doing science. SciArt Magazine 33 (October 2018). [ html ]