About the Project

Why an Ecological Visions Project?

Ecological knowledge is critical to identifying solutions for the complex environmental and health challenges that are facing our globe. Despite its relevance to society, ecological science is not well understood by the public and is under-utilized by decision makers.

How can ecologists and the Ecological Society of America help ecological science become an integral part of the public discourse on society and the environment?

Some history...

ESA's Sustainable Biosphere Initiative began in 1992 and stimulated ecologists to define the major environmental problems and ecological research frontiers. The report highlighted three major areas of ecological research: ecological aspects of climate change, the ecology and conservation of biodiversity, and ecological strategies for a sustainable biosphere. While many groups have developed lists or reports of the crucial ecological or environmental science research needs, it is difficult to identify what actions have come out of these activities. In initiating the Ecological Visions Project, the leadership of the Ecological Society of America chose to move beyond generating lists of research priorities or agendas, to identifying those actions required to realize such agendas.

Who was behind this initiative?

The ESA Governing Board created the Ecological Visions Committee in Fall 2002 and charged it with identifying actions that would accelerate the progress of ecology in tackling the big scientific challenges and increase the visibility and influence of ecological science in the next decade. The Committee was composed of 20 scientists and supporting staff. The Committee met four times between January and December 2003. In addition, the Committee developed an ESA membership survey and organized a discussion session at the ESA 2003 annual meeting in Savannah to gather input from members. Breakfast briefings with colleagues from federal agencies, industry, non-governmental organizations and other scientific societies provided valuable insight and garnered potential collaborations.

What are the project's goals?

The continuing goals of the Ecological Visions project are to stimulate revolutionary changes in our community to:

Why is the time right?

  1. The planet is now the subject of attention - ecological and environmental science is moving beyond a focus on smaller or isolated ecosystems because of new understandings, new technologies and because problems and solutions are global in nature.
    • Emerging results from ongoing research indicate that much larger scale experiments must be deployed to understand certain critical environmental problems
  2. Human activities are leading to unprecedented global environmental changes that require a change in the way humans are living on the planet - such change demands novel scientific thinking on the part of ecologists.
    • Humans as global dispersal agents (invasives, disease)
    • Homogenization of fauna and habitats
    • Spatially variable water problems
    • Blocked or changed ecosystem boundaries threaten basic ecological services
    • Global scale atmospheric and biogeochemical changes that influence all living things
  3. The current explosion of technological and informatics advances empower us to girdle the planet with sensors and treat it as a holistic system, to visualize and synthesize new and existing data and then develop creative solutions to sustain ecosystem services.
    • generic data access and integration tools for ecologists are in development or near completion
    • data visualization and analysis tools for ecological synthesis are on the immediate horizon
    • massive R&D for new tools
  4. An increasing acceptance among ecologists that their toolbox must not only hold scientific devices but communication skills, knowledge about what managers & decision makers need, and new ways to work with other disciplines in order to make ecological information most useful.
    • advancing public understanding of complex ecological systems and issues can help slow the rate of environmental degradation and bring the public in as partners in generating scientifically tractable and socially acceptable remedies
    • ecologists trained to communicate their work can better inform decision-making and policy development