Great Plains Natural Science Society


The Prairie Naturalist

Date of this Version


Document Type



The Prairie Naturalist • 48(1): June 2016


Published by the Great Plains Natural Science Society. Used by permission.


The phrase “open spaces,” may bring to mind expansive tracts of prairie, rangeland, or even desert, stretching lonely and unchanged to the horizon. Open spaces also could conjure open oceans or interstitial rural lands between urbanized hubs, dotted with farms, fields, and woodlands. In an abstract sense, open spaces could represent gaps in human understanding or blank spaces on a map. In his book The Science of Open Spaces, landscape ecologist Charles Curtin combines all these perspectives, expanding the definition of “open spaces” to multi-layered and multi-scaled complex systems that are “greater than the sum of their parts.” He populates these vastnesses with the diversity of species, hierarchy of biotic and abiotic interactions, and human social elements that comprise and link open spaces together as social-ecological systems. The Science of Open Spaces provides readers with a roadmap to 21st century land management, where the stakes are high, collaboration is crucial, and profound uncertainty in the face of the complexity often hampers decision-making.