"FAST-TRACK" WORKSHOP TO THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR ECOLOGICAL ANALYSIS AND SYNTHESIS
TITLE OF WORKSHOP:
Establishing a structure for the synthesis and integration of progress in ecosystem scienceWORKSHOP CONVENERS:
Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Millbrook, NY 12545
Phone: (914) 677-5343
e-mail: Pace: firstname.lastname@example.org
GOALS OF THE WORKSHOP:
This workshop was the beginning of a major synthesis effort to evaluate successes, limitations and frontiers in ecosystem science. This effort included several publications, electronic forums and conferences (described below). However, the first priority of this effort was to establish a uniform structure for evaluation. During the workshop, our goal was to discuss several hypotheses about the factors driving developments in ecosystem science and ideas about the key factors determining successes and limitations in this field. We assembled a group of scientists to establish a structure for our effort; to evaluate our hypotheses and develop a unified approach to evaluation of successes, limitations and frontiers. Our plan was then to present our ideas at the NCEAS Symposium on Synthesis in Ecology, held in November 1996, which we felt would be an ideal venue for us to present this structure to a wider community at an early stage of our effort.KEY SYNTHESIS QUESTION ADDRESSED:
We define "successes" in ecosystem science as bodies of work that have 1) advanced our basic science understanding of ecosystem structure and function and 2) helped in the solution of an environmental problem. This definition of success implies a strong interaction between ecosystem science and environmental problems and it is this interface that we hoped to address in our workshop. We argue that progress in the development of ecology has been strongly driven by the emergence of environmental problems that could not be addressed with existing scientific concepts. Ecosystem ecology emerged in the 1960's in response to biomagnification and aquatic ecosystem decline problems that could not be addressed using population or community-scale approaches. Landscape ecology emerged in the 1970's and 80's in response to the realization that many human activities have environmental effects at scales larger than the ecosystem and that what we really manage in many cases is the variation and interaction of different ecosystem units within a landscape. In the 1980's concern about regional and global scale questions lead to the development of "earth system science", where ecology is integrated with physical sciences (climatology, hydrology). In the 1990's, recognition of the fundamental role that humans play in all ecological problems has led to the emergence of "integrated assessment", where biological, physical and social sciences come together.WORKSHOP ACTIVITIES
We used a case study approach to describe successes, limitations and frontiers in ecosystem ecology. Prior to the workshop, participants agreed to serve as "lead authors" for different case studies. At the workshop we discussed the hypotheses about interactions between environmental problems and ecosystem science described above, established a unified framework for the approach and structure of the case studies, and review detailed outlines for the case studies prepared by the lead authors.
Participants and home institutions:
Steve Carpenter, University of Wisconsin
Peter Groffman, Institute of Ecosystem Stuides
Jim MacMahon, Utah State University
Michael Pace, Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Phil Robertson, Michigan State University
Val Smith, University of Kansas
Sarah Tjossem, University of Minnesota
Kathleen Weathers, Institute of Ecosystem Studies
Carol Wessman, University of Colorado
A unified structure for case studies of successes, limitations and frontiers in ecosystem ecology was established. The thesis that ecosystem ecology is somewhat unique as a discipline because progress in this field has been driven by the emergence of new environmental problems that could not be addressed with existing practical and conceptual tools was thoroughly discussed. The alternative to this thesis, that advances in ecology have been driven by intellectual or practical developments, was also explored.
The potentially unique relationship between environmental problems and advances in ecosystem ecology raises two important questions that were discussed at length during our meeting. First, if there is a strong relationship between environmental problems and advances in our science, should contribution to the solution of environmental problems be considered in evaluations of the "success" of a research effort? Second, should ecosystem ecologists be "activist" promoting the usefulness of their discipline for solving practical problems and improving human management of the environment.
The group spent a lot of time discussing different criteria of success in ecosystem research. Our initial idea was to define success as a body of work that has 1)increased our basic science understanding of the structure and function of ecosystems and 2) contributed to the solution of an environmental problem. The group determined that it is useful to partition the second criterion, i.e. the practical or applied criterion, into two components, 1) have we generated the scientific understanding necessary to solve a problem? and 2) has this knowledge been used by society? Among the success stories discussed during the workshop, all have been successes by the basic science criterion, and most have been successes by the first component of the applied science criterion. However, there is wide variation in the nature and extent of success in implemention among our different success cases. The lack of success in implementation highlights the need for stronger interaction between ecosystem scientists and management and political institutions and possibly for more "activism" to make these institutions aware of the value of our discipline.
Detailed outlines for case studies of succeses, limitations and frontiers in ecosystem ecology were produced. These outlines were developed and presented at a "Cary Conference" which was held at the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in May 1997. The presentations are currently being developed into a book, "Successes, limitations and frontiers in ecosystem ecology" to be published by Springer-Verlag in Spring 1998.