Richard T.T. Forman

Professor of Advanced Environmental Studies in the Field of Landscape Ecology, Emeritus

Richard T. T. Forman, Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, is often considered a “father” of landscape ecology and also road ecology, helps spearhead urban ecology, and recently pioneered town ecology.  His primary scholarly interest links science with spatial pattern to interweave nature and people on the land.  Other research interests include changing land mosaics, conservation, and land-use planning.  With a Haverford College B.S., University of Pennsylvania Ph.D., and two honorary doctoral degrees, he now teaches ecology in the Harvard Graduate School of Design and formerly also in Harvard College.  He taught at the Escuela Agricola Panamericana, University of Wisconsin and Rutgers University, and received the Lindback Foundation Award for Excellence in Teaching.  He served as President or Vice-President of three professional societies, and has received honors/awards in France, Colombia, England, Italy, China, Czech Republic, Australia, and the USA.  Internationally, he deciphers spatial patterns from cities to wilderness, and catalyzes the spread of ecological ideas and applications for society.  Professor Forman has authored numerous articles; his books include Landscape Ecology (1986), the award-winning Land Mosaics (1995), Landscape Ecology Principles in Landscape Architecture and Land-Use Planning (1996), Road Ecology (2003), Mosaico territorial para la region metropolitana de Barcelona (2004), Urban Regions: Ecology and Planning Beyond the City (2008), award-finalist Urban Ecology: Science of Cities (2014), and Towns, Ecology, and the Land (2019).

Early Career

Professor Forman received his bachelor’s degree in biology at Haverford College and Ph.D. in botany at the University of Pennsylvania, after which he served two years as an American Friends Service Committee volunteer in Guatemala and Honduras.  His scholarly roots are in plant, avian and forest ecology.  An early (1962) experimental study (see Selected Scholarly Articles below), using a “micro-phytotron” constructed in the lab (pre-growth-chamber era) explained the hierarchical distributions of a plant species at ten spatial scales, just before ecology’s focus on spatial scale a decade later.  Other early research subjects included moss ecology, tropical rainforest, and community structure.  In an era before ecologists focused on heavy-human-imprint areas and spatial pattern, he and colleagues used old-growth woods in farmland for the first (1976) statistically designed test highlighting the effect of patch size on biodiversity, a subject explored in thousands of subsequent studies.  Immediately thereafter he spearheaded a then rare multidimensional analysis and 1979 book for an entire landscape, Pine Barrens: Ecosystem and Landscape, including its patch-corridor pattern.

Landscape Ecology

These last two steps galvanized the idea of landscape ecology, and with colleagues from several fields, Forman began to build the foundations for a field of study.  The ecological corridor concept, now widely used, was described (1981, 1983).  A coauthored landscape-wide modeling study (1987) emerged as a key for solving the subsequent logging-and-owls controversy in the USA Pacific Northwest.  His coauthored 1986 book, Landscape Ecology, was the first synthesis of modern landscape ecology, and elaborated the patch-corridor-matrix model for understanding and improving land use pattern, now a standard conceptual foundation.  In 1995 a more definitive book, Land Mosaics: The Ecology of Landscapes and Regions, extended the vision to include regions, and catalyzed landscape ecology’s widespread growth.  A small widely used coauthored 1996 book, Landscape Ecology Principles for Landscape Architecture and Land-Use Planning, highlighted applications for society.  Later he used landscape ecology to understand coastal and urban regions.

Road Ecology

In 1995, challenged by the paradox of conspicuous road systems in the landscape and hardly any ecological understanding of them, Dr. Forman began collaborating with the transportation community and wildlife biologists to build a field of road ecology.  His articles with colleagues provided early syntheses and ideas, which led to spearheading a 2003 volume, Road Ecology: Science and Solutions, co-authored by 14 leading ecologists, hydrologist, and transportation experts.  As the first comprehensive book on the ecology of roads and vehicles, the book effectively jump-started the field’s coalescence.  Both basic research and implementation of mitigation/design solutions in transportation have noticeably expanded worldwide.

Looking ahead with a transportation leader, Forman outlined (2011) a netway system, replacing roads and cars, to recover and reconnect the land for nature and us (a solution that also increases safe and efficient mobility, uses renewable energy and no fossil fuel, emits no unhealthful pollutants or greenhouse gas, and enhances market gardening and recreational trail networks near cities/towns).

Urban Ecology

Forman’s interest in urban ecology coalesced in a planning project and 2004 book, Mosaico territorial para la region metropolitana de Barcelona (later selected as one of the top “Design with Nature Now” projects by the University of Pennsylvania’s Ian McHarg Center), highlighting natural systems and their uses, plus some novel solutions, for the Barcelona Region (Spain).  Further dimensions evolved in local ecological and planning analyses for a suburban town near Boston, and in global-scale studies.  These foundations led to a big-picture spatial environmental analysis of 38 large-to-small urban regions (Urban Regions: Ecology and Planning Beyond the City, 2008) that highlighted the interdependence of an urban region and a city.  Then, burrowing into cities worldwide, in 2014 he produced a relatively comprehensive state-of-the-science synthesis, Urban Ecology: Science of Cities (a finalist for the Society of Biology Award, London), tying together organisms, built structures, and the physical environment where people are concentrated.

More-recent coauthored papers (2016) open the frontier of best places for the next billion people at global and urban-region scales, and highlight the importance of urban region plans.

Town Ecology and Current Work

Landscape, road and urban ecology inexorably led Forman to town ecology, another “subject that didn't exist.” Town ecology highlights the ecology of towns (e.g. 2,000 to 30,000 residents) and villages, plus their linkages with surrounding cropland, pastureland, forest, and desert. The land of towns and villages (present in huge numbers) covers perhaps half the global land surface, contains nearly half the human population, and provides most terrestrial resources for society.

Focusing on the development of ecological principles and their use for society remains of current interest.  He is associated with and active in Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, the FAS Environmental Science and Public Policy undergraduate concentration, the Harvard University Center for the Environment, and The Harvard Forest.

International Honors

Professor Forman served as a Fulbright Scholar in Colombia, CNRS Chercheur in France, Miegunyah Fellow at the University of Melbourne, CRES Fellow at Australian National University, and Founding Vice President of the International Association for Landscape Ecology (IALE).  He received medals from the Faculty of Science of Charles University (Prague) and the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Florence (Italy).  He served as Consultant to the President and Minister of Natural Resources of Costa Rica, the Mayor and Chief Architect/Planner of Barcelona, and the Chinese Academy of Transportation Sciences, Ministry of Transport.  He is a Member of Clare Hall (University of Cambridge), an Honorary Member of the Italian Society of Landscape Ecology, and in China an Honorary Professor at Inner Mongolia University and the Academia Sinica Institute of Applied Ecology.

Honors in the USA

Dr. Forman has received honorary degrees from Miami University (Doctor of Humane Letters), Harvard University (Master of Arts), Conway School of Design, and Florida International University (Doctor of Science).  He served as Vice President of the Ecological Society of America and President of the Torrey Botanical Society.  He established the Ecological Society of America’s first Washington Office, overseeing its initial policy and practices.  In addition to directing university graduate programs, for twelve years he directed a small ecological research center at Rutgers, the Hutcheson Memorial Forest Center.  Forman has been a Member of the Editorial Board of six scientific journals, and has served on three National Research Council/TRB committees.  He has written Forewords for 16 published books.  His board memberships included The Trustees of Reservations, The Nature Conservancy-Massachusetts Chapter, and Sudbury Valley Trustees (current).  He was named Distinguished Landscape Ecologist by IALE, received the Pine Barrens Hall of Fame Award, is an inaugural Fellow of the Ecological Society of America, and was elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Other Experience

Biological Aide, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Patuxent Research Refuge, Maryland.

Member, Committee of Examiners for GRE Advanced Test in Biology, Educational Testing Service.

Consultant and collaborator with The Nature Conservancy in protection of natural areas in New Jersey.

Presenter of four workshops/sessions on landscape ecology and its applications, Florence, Italy.

Invited presentations (>250) at institutions in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, United Kingdom, Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Turkey, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Canada, USA, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China.

Numerous invited talks at Forman’s home university, and papers presented at professional meetings.

Commencement address, “Choose a place, at any scale; make it better, for nature and us,” Florida International University.

Leader/Co-Leader of Four plans and reports for a local Massachusetts town.

Service on diverse task forces, committees and boards for local and state agencies, plus statewide non-profit organizations, focusing on land-use planning, open space protection, conservation, recreation, and historic preservation.


Professor Forman taught at the Escuela Agricola Panamericana (Honduras), University of Wisconsin, Rutgers University, and several field stations.  At Harvard, he was the PAES Professor of Landscape Ecology, teaching graduate ecology courses for the Graduate School of Design’s Landscape Architecture Department, plus a junior-senior ecology and land-use planning course in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences ESPP Program.  Courses often included 2-to-7-day intensive field-study trips in areas from Maine to New Mexico, Florida, the Caribbean, and Venezuela.  He served as advisor for 11 doctoral students and 21 masters and senior-thesis students.  Forman was a finalist for the Levenson Outstanding Teacher Award in Harvard College three times, was voted Harvard College Class of 2011 Favorite Professor, and received the Lindback Foundation Award for Excellence in Teaching.  He relishes teaching and student learning, often highlighting ways to use the principles for improving the land around us.  Currently he teaches Harvard’s graduate Urban and Town Ecology course.


Selected Scholarly Articles