Submitted to: Trends in Ecology and Evolution
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: July 22, 2010
Publication Date: October 2, 2010
Repository URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/58392
Citation: Peters, D.C. 2010. Accessible ecology: Synthesis of the long, deep, and broad. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 25(10):592-601. Interpretive Summary: Ecological systems are changing dramatically in response to changes in environmental drivers. Large volumes of complex data have been collected to document these changes, yet solutions to these environmental problems remain elusive. A general buy-in on solutions can be reached only if these data are made easily accessible to and understood by a broad audience that includes the public, decision-makers, and other scientists. A developing framework and approach for integrating three main strategies associated with ecological research (long-term studies, detailed process-based studies, broad-scale observations) is reviewed that provides condensed data from different sources and disciplines in formats that are easily understood by many, a prerequisite for finding solutions and predicting future dynamics in a changing world.
Technical Abstract: Dramatic changes in climate, land cover, and habitat availability have occurred over the past several centuries to influence every ecosystem on Earth. Large amounts of data have been collected to document changes. Solutions to these environmental problems have been more elusive, in large part because much of the data remain inaccessible to a broad audience. The complex nature of environmental problems requires that different types of data from multiple sources and disciplines be integrated, yet the sheer volume of data makes accessibility in a coherent, easy-to-understand format challenging. Most data are too technical or complicated for general use, and many data are posted on-line in non-standard formats. Here, I review three general strategies associated with ecological research (long-term studies, pattern-process studies for deep understanding within a system, observation networks of sites for broad-scale patterns) that are commonly used to investigate ecosystem responses to a changing environment. Each strategy provides unique insights with important contributions to ecological knowledge, yet each also has scientific limitations and challenges to data accessibility. Then, I describe a framework being developed to make different types and sources of data from these three strategies easily accessible to a broad audience. I draw upon synthetic analyses and new insights from the EcoTrends Project for a broad range of ecosystem types found globally (terrestrial, aquatic, marine, urban). Finally, I emphasize new research directions to improve data accessibility, and to provide new ecological knowledge for forecasting future ecosystem dynamics.