Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

D. Scott Slocombe

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


This dissertation examines the issue of biophysical landscape health. Its primary objective is to produce an interpretation of biophysical landscape health for the highly governed landscapes of the Lower Piave area of northeastern Italy. Highly governed landscapes are considered to be those which are highly controlled by humans to an even greater degree than normal cultural landscapes. An example is reclaimed agricultural landscapes such as those of the northeastern Italian coastal belt, from which the Lower Piave case study is drawn. These landscapes are highly governed because without constant human intervention, they would revert back to their former marsh state. The idea of landscape health is derived from ecosystem health, which is a metaphor drawn from human health. As with human health, a healthy system is one that is in a sound and complete state, and able to recover from distress and disease. “Health” concepts are increasingly viewed as more appropriate paradigms for measuring and assessing the state and condition of biophysical systems. The motivation for this research lies in the fact that traditional norms of land health (e.g. wilderness, climax) are not applicable to the unique biophysical and cultural nature of the Lower Piave. An interpretation of biophysical landscape health is derived through a series of sequential research and analytical stages listed in Chapter 4. Stage one is a review of the conceptual basis of health from the fields of ecosystem health and integrity, sustainability and landscape ecology. Stage two is an investigation of the historical and cultural context of landscape governance through a landscape history of the Venetian Plain. Stage three examines 20th century land transformation when the study area was reclaimed for agriculture, and thus transformed into a highly governed landscape. Further landscape transformation occurred with the modernization of agriculture. Stage four consists of a detailed study of the nature and condition of key landscape elements in the Lower Piave. These elements include agriculture, land drainage, water quality and vegetation. Stage five identifies critical landscape linkages and interrelationships. Stage six represents the interpretation of biophysical landscape health based on the integration of information from the previous steps. The interpretation of landscape health consists of a general definition and a series of defining characteristics. Biophysical landscape health is generally defined as a condition where human governance sustains a landscape character and structure that is relatively stable over time, allows for balance between system components, is free from damaging human-induced distress and risk factors, and which maintains the ability of the landscape to provide ecological functions beneficial to humans and other organisms. Specific characteristics of landscape health include absence of distress and risk factors, sustainability, resilience, biological diversity, equilibrium and balance, and structural stability. Key to this interpretation is that a condition of landscape health is not incompatible with traditional land uses and landscape governance. This interpretation and defining characteristics is considered to be significant in that it represents basic framework and starting point for landscape and health monitoring and assessment. This definition is also significant in that it is considered to be applicable to other similar highly governed landscapes.

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