Skip to main content
main-content

Über dieses Buch

The need to understand and address large-scale environmental problems that are difficult to study in controlled environments—issues ranging from climate change to overfishing to invasive species—is driving the field of ecology in new and important directions. Observation and Ecology documents that transformation, exploring how scientists and researchers are expanding their methodological toolbox to incorporate an array of new and reexamined observational approaches-from traditional ecological knowledge to animal-borne sensors to genomic and remote-sensing technologies-to track, study, and understand current environmental problems and their implications.

Observations in Ecology can play a key role in understanding our changing planet and the consequences of human activities on ecological processes. This book will serve as an important resource for future scientists and conservation leaders who are seeking a more holistic and applicable approach to ecological science.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Introduction

A Time of Change and Adaptation in Ecology
Abstract
All of us are living in a time of transformation — economic, social, political, and environmental changes are challenging us everywhere and constantly. It seems obvious, then, that the science of ecology, which deals with the tangled web of relationships between organisms and the biogeochemical world we live in, should also be in a transformative period. The methods, goals, participants, and even philosophies of ecology are changing. The changes we are seeing now are wrought from a convergence of unprecedented environmental challenges and remarkable new opportunities to study ecological systems. Both the signal of this change in ecological science and the vehicle for ongoing transformation is how we use observation to discover new phenomena, to achieve ecological understanding, and to share ecological ideas.
Rafe Sagarin, Aníbal Pauchard

The Role of Observation in Ecological Science

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. An Observational Approach to Ecology

Abstract
To understand how ecology will serve us in this era age of rapid environmental change, we need to understand that ecology is not a static discipline. It is continuously adapting to the changing world that ecologists find themselves living and working within. This chapter is about the most recent adaptation in ecology, which can be seen in both an increased use and increased diversity of observational approaches to understanding ecological phenomena. This adaptation, like stepwise adaptations in nature, hasn’t created an entirely new and unrecognizable entity, but rather has grown recursively from the past state of ecology. Accordingly, we first discuss what ecology was for much of its existence and then we explore how the urgency of environmental change and the opportunity to study that change in unprecedented ways is providing a pathway for adaptation of the science of ecology.
Rafe Sagarin, Aníbal Pauchard

Chapter 2. Observational Approaches in Historical Context

Abstract
Where did all these observational approaches to ecology come from, and why now, when ecology has had a fairly long run as a respectable discipline using robust theory and controlled experiments, have they begun to emerge everywhere we look? This chapter uses the historical context of how the science of ecology has changed to illustrate that the current changes are both a reflection of an earlier period in ecology and also a unique manifestation, wholly of the current period in environmental history.
Rafe Sagarin, Aníbal Pauchard

Using Observations in Ecology

Frontmatter

Chapter 3. Using All the Senses in Ecology

Abstract
This chapter is about how our sensory abilities to perceive nature are essential to an observational approach to ecology. These sensory abilities are both universal to humankind and at the same time unique to different individual humans, based on their personal history, abilities, and motivations. Our senses are our most elemental tools in building an observational understanding of ecological relationships, but they are often underutilized and sometimes viewed with skepticism in a scientific context. In this chapter we show how each of the senses can contribute to scientific ecology. We use the experiences of past and present ecologists to argue that the personal nature of how we utilize our senses can be an asset that motivates us to explore the natural world and opens us to new ecological discoveries.
Rafe Sagarin, Aníbal Pauchard

Chapter 4. Using Technology to Expand Our Observational Senses

Abstract
For all our unused sensory power discussed in the previous chapter, our senses are still decidedly limited, and this would restrict our ability to use an observational approach to ecology were it not for technology-facilitated expansions of our senses. This chapter is about how we can use technology to our advantage, how it can lead us astray, and how to harmonize the relationship between the biophilic observer of the natural world and the technophilic scientist who sees the world through technological sensors.
Rafe Sagarin, Aníbal Pauchard

Chapter 5. Local, Traditional, and Accidental Ecological Observers and Observations

Abstract
One of the most notable features of an observation-driven approach to ecology is that data can come from anywhere. There are virtually no limits on the types of observations that might become part of a scientific study of changing ecological systems. Old photographs, a naturalist’s field notebook, seafood-restaurant menus from a bygone era, long-forgotten scientific papers, a gambling contest, feathers of a bird preserved in a museum, stories passed down from generation to generation, and even a centuriesold pack-rat midden preserved by generations of pack-rat urine have all been used recently in ecological studies. This openness is both a benefit — it creates limitless opportunity for ecological studies and also invites all sorts of people to become part of a new ecological understanding, regardless of their scientific training, means, or geographic location — and also a curse — how do we sift through it all to find out what is useful, and once we find what we are looking for, how much can we trust all these uncontrolled observers?
Rafe Sagarin, Aníbal Pauchard

The Challenges Posed by an Observational Approach

Frontmatter

Chapter 6. Dealing with Too Many Observations, and Too Few

Abstract
In the last chapter we showed that a greater openness to the observations of nonscientists is unveiling valuable new data sources and even accidental ecological knowledge. In this chapter we focus on the more formalized types of observational data that ecologists have been taking for well over a century in the form of museum collections, historical data, long-term monitoring schemes, and more recently, networks of ecological observers. How ecologists plan to collect these data, how the collections or observations are maintained and stored over long time periods, and how they are analyzed all ultimately affect the strength of the conclusions we can draw from them.
Rafe Sagarin, Aníbal Pauchard

Chapter 7. Is Observation-Based Ecology Scientific?

Abstract
Questions and criticisms that arise around observational approaches boil down to one fundamental question: “Is this really science?” This question could be asked of any kind of research, but because observational approaches have been out of the scientific mainstream for a long time, and because they invite so many nonscientists as well as investigators from the so-called soft sciences to be part of the life sciences, it is frequently directed at observational studies. So now that these kinds of studies are being integrated into science, the natural follow-up to the fundamental question becomes “Are observational approaches scientific?”
Rafe Sagarin, Aníbal Pauchard

Beyond Academia: The Power of Observational Approaches

Frontmatter

Chapter 8. Ecology’s Renewed Importance in Policy

Abstract
We have been hinting all along that ecology has a more prominent role to play in public policy debates than ever before. The multiple-scale and large-scale ecological changes that are tailored to large, multiple-scale networked ecological observations that we discussed in Chapter 6 should also be the focus of policy changes at multiple scales of governance — from local to global. Yet career ecologists have been frustrated at how little progress ecology as a science has made in turning the tide of environmental degradation and destruction. In this chapter we dive into this paradox by looking at the ecology of policy making itself and identifing matches and mismatches between ecological science and the complex ecology of politics.
Rafe Sagarin, Aníbal Pauchard

Chapter 9. Opening Nature’s Door to a New Generation of Citizens and Ecologists

Abstract
Humans by their nature are observers. Before we are even born we are sensing our environment. As we grow older, we acquire crucial information mainly by observing the environment directly or through our peers’ interactions with the environment. There is a natural connection between observation and how we learn and understand the world. We have evolved to use observations to build up our own representation of reality. As the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Foundation have acknowledged, the “practices of observation,” particularly “observing nature,” are essential to build the ability to apply the process of science in biology (Brewer and Smith 2011).
Rafe Sagarin, Aníbal Pauchard

Conclusions

Abstract
Science is often portrayed as an incremental process of building an edifice of knowledge, brick by brick. The benefits of this approach are said to accrue from the precision and rigor that comes from studying a carefully chosen set of variables at small spatial scales. Robert Paine argues that the understanding of ecological systems at large scales can be built this way, noting, “Even the smallest bricks, if solid enough, can be used to construct the largest building.” But this analogy and, by extension, this way of doing science, which served us adequately in the twentieth century, doesn’t hold up when we try to make sense of rapidly changing ecological systems that are increasingly intertwined with complex human behaviors. The problem is no longer how large we can make the building, but rather how quickly it can be made, and even whether a building is really what we need to bring together the growing body of scientific understanding of the world. The brick-by-brick approach would be fine if we had limitless time to build ecological understanding, but it is not scaled to the dimensions of time in which we need answers right now. The foundation of ecology — the natural world and its networked relationships — is collapsing faster than bricklayers can build an understanding of it.
Rafe Sagarin, Aníbal Pauchard

Backmatter

Weitere Informationen