Research Interests

Over the past 30 years, I have addressed a number of issues of human-environmental interest: how Amazonian soils vary from place to place and the challenge this presents to management; how environmental constraints relate to human physiological, cultural, and behavioral responses; how the demographic structure of households affects their land use including deforestation decisions; how spatial and temporal scale impacts social and environmental explanations; and perhaps most significantly how integrative studies of human-environment relations may be designed, executed, and result in more satisfactory explanations of complex human-environmental systems. Unlike most studies, I have not only collected information of the local systems of knowledge but validated this knowledge through taking soil samples and having them analyzed in order to evaluate the accuracy of local knowledge and under what conditions that knowledge may be limited (and why). This work demonstrated the significance of soils fertility to the rates of secondary forest regrowth after deforestation in Amazonia. In my first book, Human Adaptability (3 editions) I undertook the task of integrating the findings of the biophysical sciences coming from the International Biological Program (IBP) with the findings of the social sciences and human biology. The book is widely used still because of its successful integration of biophysical environmental research, studies of human physiological adaptation, and behavioral and cultural research from a variety of disciplines to understand how people interact with the physical environment and the impact of environment on human possibilities. Following 18 years of research and a Guggenheim Fellowship, the book, Through Amazonian Eyes: the human ecology of Amazonian populations (1993) carried out an integrative approach to the study of the Amazonian environment and its peoples never before attempted. It made a number of new contributions to science: it demonstrated that the Amazon region, until then routinely divided into upland forest and floodplain, was made up of many more complex ecosystems whose characteristics resulted in very different constraints and opportunities for human populations and provided an agenda for integrative research on human-environment in that region. In this past decade, I would characterize my contribution as conceptualizing, developing methods, and carrying out analyses distinguished by an integrative vision of an emerging meta-discipline that I have tried to help construct, variously called environmental social science or human-environmental science. My latest book, Environmental Social Science (Wiley/Blackwell 2010) reflects these interests.

Membership Type


Election Year


Primary Section

Section 64: Human Environmental Sciences

Secondary Section

Section 51: Anthropology