The Impact of NCEAS

Researchers huddle to collaborate on their work in the bright and airy lounge of our research center

The NCEAS process and its results have transformed scientific culture, informed environmental policy and directly helped shape complex natural resource management decisions.


  • Engaged 6000 scientists and experts from 57 countries in Working Group collaborations
  • Supporting more than 500 Projects proposed by the science community
  • Published more than 2,200 peer-reviewed scientific articles
  • Ranked in the Top 1% of institutions in ecology and environment science worldwide
  • 2 of the Top 3 most influential publications on ecological response to climate change were NCEAS Working Group products
  • More than 20 synthesis centers have emulated the successful NCEAS model.


The National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) is a research center of the University of California, Santa Barbara. NCEAS supports cross-disciplinary research that uses existing data to address major fundamental issues in ecology and allied fields, and encourages the application of science to management and policy.

NCEAS is a unique institution with an explicit mission to foster synthesis and analysis, turn information into understanding and, through effective collaboration, alter how science is conducted. NCEAS' success is evident in the broad impact of its research and programs, from improving access to data, to promoting a culture of scientific collaboration, and through building the capacity of the scientific community through unique training initiatives.

Unlike many research centers, we have no permanent body of scientific faculty; rather, NCEAS maintains its well-known vitality through the dynamic nature of the resident and visiting scientists who are collectively responsible for its success. NCEAS has hosted 6,000 individuals and supported more than 500 projects since its inception in 1995. These projects have produced a wide array of outcomes, from specific results to general knowledge within and across disciplines and the application of science to resource management. NCEAS has developed information access tools that are becoming the standard for ecology and allied fields.


NCEAS Productivity and Significance

NCEAS Ranked One of the Top Ecological Institutes

  • As of 2005, NCEAS had reached the top 1% of institutions worldwide working in ecology and the environment (38,000 institutions in total) in terms of total citations in the field of Environment/Ecology, according to ISI Essential Science Indicators.
  • NCEAS ranked #22 out of the 38,000 institutions in publications impact in ecology and the environment. These numbers are very conservative, because they are based on institutional affiliations, rather than acknowledgments. Only 40% of NCEAS products have NCEAS listed as the institutional affiliation for one or more of the authors.
  • Two of the top three most influential publications on ecological response to climate change were NCEAS Working Group products.

Words from titles of NCEAS 100 most cited publications (2012)


Large Volume of Publications

"The Center has fostered collaborations that have gathered rich data sets, yielding some of the most widely cited work in the field."
- Erik Stokstad, Science May 2011

More than 2,200 publications, many in Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS),
Ecology Letters and Trends in Ecology and Evolution (TREE).

Expanding Breadth and Influence of Research

  • NCEAS articles have been published in more than 300 different journals.
  • NCEAS has attracted projects pertaining to ecology from outside the natural sciences, most notably economics, philosophy, and sociology.
  • Areas of NCEAS inquiry stretch from genes to the biosphere. Examples of the diverse topics include climate change, infectious disease, ecosystem services, marine ecology and conservation. A range of specific NCEAS research projects are described in science and synthesis research.
  • NCEAS projects have received recognition in local, regional, national and international press including Science, Nature, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, PBS, and other national media.


 Broad Participation by the Scientific Community

  • Most visitors come to NCEAS only one or two times. With more than 600 visits each year, the network of ecologists who are using NCEAS continues to grow. 
  • NCEAS participants come from diverse regions, institutions, and fields of study:
    • Participants are from 49 US states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico and 57 countries
    • 19% of participants are from outside the U.S.
    • More than 550 academic institutions have been represented; roughly a quarter of these are non-PhD granting institutions
    • More than 500 non-academic entities (companies, NGOs, public agencies) have been represented
    • Participants belong to more than 600 scholarly societies
  • Faculty member participants in NCEAS activities include both junior and senior scientists:
    • 17% of faculty participants are assistant professors
    • 28% are associate professors
    • 55% are full professors
  • Women are well-represented at NCEAS:
    • 40% of the Science Advisory Board members
    • Approximately 40% of Postdoctoral Associates
    • Over 50% of Graduate interns
this line graph shows the trend of increase in female participation in NCEAS Working Groups, with steady growth from less than 20% in 1997 to approximately 35% in 2010

Highly Successful Postdoctoral Associates

  • Postdocs are chosen from a highly diverse, competitive applicant pool and represent some of the best young scientists in the world.
  • Postdocs are mentored in a new culture of collaboration, synthesis, and interdisciplinary research, allowing their scholarship to flourish. This unique postdoctoral experience was highlighted in an article in Nature.
  • Several have received Young Investigator Awards, and one the ASN President's Award. Other awards include the Buell award (best paper by a graduate student), the Tom Frost award (best paper in limnology by a young scientist), and the W. S. Cooper Award (outstanding contributor to the field of geobotany from ESA).
photo of postdoctoral and other young scientists participating in training course on advanced statistical methods in ecology

Commitment to Support the Application of Science in Conservation and Resource Management

  • Over 25% of the projects at NCEAS include among their goals "informing environmental policy and management."
  • NCEAS participants have come from roughly 240 public agencies (local, national and international) and approximately 260 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), most of which focus on conservation and resource management.
  • Postdoctoral Associates have included three Smith Fellows from The Nature Conservancy. NCEAS has supported Fellows from the U.S. Forest Service and NGOs, and currently hosts a conservation outreach associate from COMPASS.
  • Recognizing the success of the NCEAS approach when applied to specific societal needs, NCEAS, The Nature Conservancy, and the Wildlife Conservation Society have established a new scientific partnership called the Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP).
  • NCEAS projects have influenced public policy and resource management in many ways, from testimony before Congress to the development of analytical tools. For example, NCEAS scientists contributed to California’s Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas planning process. In another example, a Working Group’s timely publication on pollinators’ ecosystem services was used by the Congressional Research Service (Johnson, CRS Report for Congress: Recent Honeybee Declines, 31 May 2007) to inform lawmakers about Colony Collapse Disorder.

Advancing Informatics Research

  • NCEAS' Informatics Program is dedicated to the development and dissemination of technological tools that facilitate analysis and synthesis in ecology. Consequently, the NCEAS Informatics group is a leading developer of collaborations and technical solutions to provide more efficient and powerful access to and analysis of ecological data.
  • NCEAS and many collaborators have obtained significant funding from NSF and private foundations for more than a dozen Informatics research projects.

Improving Access to Data

  • NCEAS maintains a data policy which encourages and facilitates the sharing of data, while respecting the intellectual property rights of data owners.
  • A number of projects have developed major synthetic data sets that will have significance to the broader ecological community.
  • NCEAS provides access to a data repository containing information about research data sets collected and collated as part of NCEAS' funded activities. Information in the NCEAS Data Repository is concurrently available through the Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity (KNB), an international data repository.

Promoting a Culture of Collaboration

Visitors work together around a table in the courtyard ourside our research center in downtown Santa Barbara, California

  • The average number of authors of an NCEAS article is significantly higher, and the percent of NCEAS articles with a single author is significantly lower than the average for articles in Ecology.
  • Sociologists discovered that the NCEAS model promotes a higher level of productive collaboration than other, more typical models such as in situ resident centers: an interaction density of 50%, 2.5 times higher than the average for other groups that have been analyzed.
  • Unplanned interactions between and among resident and visiting scientists have resulted in significant and new research collaborations.


Reports & Proposals: 


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