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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 ESA help ecological science become an integral part of the public discourse on society and the environment?  

Some history...

ESA's Sustainable Biosphere Initiative (SBI Report) began a decade ago and stimulated ecologists to define the major environmental problems and ecological research frontiers.  Three major areas of ecological research were highlighted: 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. 

The leadership of the Ecological Society of America wants to move beyond generating lists of research priorities or agendas, to identifying those actions required to realize such agendas. 

Now it is time to take a fresh look at the future of ecological science - where are we going and how will we get there?

Who's behind this initiative?

The ESA Governing Board created the Ecological Visions committee in Fall 2002. The group was charged 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 Ecological Visions committee is composed of 21 scientists and supporting staff: Margaret Palmer (Chair), Emily Bernhardt (post-doctoral associate), Scott Collins, Liz Chornesky, Andy Dobson, Cliff Duke (ESA), Jim Ehleringer, Barry Gold, Robb Jacobson, Sharon Kingsland, Rhonda Kranz (ESA), Mike Mappin, Fiorenza Micheli, Jen Morse (U-MD staff), Mike Pace, Mercedes Pascual, Steve Palumbi, Jim Reichman, Bill Schlesinger, Alan Townsend, and Monica Turner. 

The group has met twice since January 2003 and has two more meetings scheduled in 2003.  In addition, a public discussion session will be held during the ESA Annual Meeting in Savannah in August 2003.

What are the project's goals?

Our Vision Statement represents the framework for the five major focus areas (Visions) we have defined.  Each Vision will have specific actions associated with it:  We wish to develop a series of action plans that will stimulate revolutionary changes in our community to:

  • Bolster the research capabilities of ecological science in order to elevate the understanding of our planet as an interacting system; and,
  • Transform interactions between ecological scientists, policy makers and the public in order to maximize the benefits from natural systems while preserving and protecting those benefits for future generations.

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, technologies and because problems and solutions are global in nature. 
    1. 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.
    1. Humans as global dispersal agents (invasives, disease)
    2. Homogenization of fauna and habitats
    3. Spatially variable water problems
    4. Blocked or changed ecosystem boundaries threaten basic ecological services
    5. 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.
    1. generic data access and integration tools for ecologists are in development or near completion;
    2. data visualization and analysis tools for ecological synthesis are on the immediate horizon;
    3. 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, new ways to work with other disciplines to make ecological information most useful.
    1. 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
    2. ecologists well trained to communicate their work can better inform decision-making and policy development

Visionary action themes ("Visions"):

  1. Launch a program to inspire a decade dedicated to the development and deployment of diverse, high-tech environmental research innovations
  2. Embark on a collaborative campaign to build an ecologically informed public
  3. Initiate programs to stimulate cultural changes within the scientific & institutional communities
  4. Roll-out an 8-10 year ecoinformatics plan that will ensure that all metadata and raw data are freely and easily available for all research published in ESA journals
  5. Initiate a program to interact with other societies and countries to internationalize ecological research and the ecological research community
  6. Identify 3-5 critical research programs ("Big Ideas")

How will the Visions and Actions be identified?

The group is soliciting input from ESA members and interested parties to improve and refine this effort.  In particular, we want to identify specific actions that ESA can take or help realize to implement these visions.  

Please visit our feedback pages to learn more about each Vision and provide your ideas.  We would like your feedback by August 20 to incorporate in our late August committee meeting.

Check this website for updates on the project and further opportunities to provide input.

Join us for a Discussion Session at ESA 2003 in Savannah.


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