Where the ecologists are: geographical bias in field research

Field TalkField Talk
“It matters because we’re facing global change – these are global phenomena, so we need global information,” said Erle Ellis, a professor of geography & environmental systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, talking about the low resolution of ecological data from many parts of the world. A review of five years of ecological field studies, published earlier this year, showed a bias toward the protected, temperate, broadleafed forests of wealthy countries, where most ecologists make their homes. Ellis talks about some of the surprising discoveries of the review, and the challenges of defining native species ranges in a time of global change. He shares concerns about framing conservation in terms of ecosystems services, and his own journey from plant physiology through agricultural field studies in rural China, to his current work in land use and global change.

Mapping where ecologists work: biases in the global distribution of terrestrial ecological observations. Laura J Martin, Bernd Blossey, and Erle Ellis. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 2012 10:4, 195-201.

Figure 1 Martin et al Mapping where ecologists work: biases in the global distribution of terrestrial ecological observations

Image taken from Figure 1 of Martin et al.: The percentage of global ice-free terrestrial area in each anthrome category (left) as compared with the percentage of ecological sites (n = 2573) situated in each anthrome category (right). In the key, “other” refers to sites that were not densely settled or agriculture/rangeland but that did not contain adequate information to assign a protected status. Estimate of protected sites is therefore conservative.

Learn more about this project on ESA’s blog, EcoTone.

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