More modelling and bigger scales … or not? What do you think?

By Joern Fischer

Sparked by a short commentary by Lindenmayer and Likens, there is a (still fairly mild compared to what we’ve recently had on here) nascent debate on whether ecology is losing its way — other interesting blog posts on this are here and here. I’ll paraphrase what Lindenmayer and Likens said: they’re concerned that ecology is losing its place-based culture, with more and more modelling getting published while  empirical stuff is increasingly difficult to publish.

In a recent editorial in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, David Schimel talked about ‘the era of continental scale ecology‘, and argued we need more continental scale work, including students who are trained in mathematics and modelling to deal with the resulting large datasets.

Well, as you’ll see in the next issue of Frontiers, we’ve now also joined this debate, arguing that we might (or might not) need more continental scale work, and people trained in modelling and mathematics — but this needs to be balanced with good ecological intuition, which can only be attained through field work (Fischer, Hanspach and Hartel, next issue of Frontiers).

What do you think? Is there a trend towards larger scales and more modelling, especially in top-tier journals (which lead the way as far as trends go)? And does this come (i) at the expense of empirical work at local or landscape scales, and (ii) at the expense of ecological intuition? Are we becoming modellers and mathematicians disguised as ecologists? I’d greatly appreciate your comments!

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5 thoughts on “More modelling and bigger scales … or not? What do you think?

  1. One of my favorite Hungarian thinkers and ecologists Juhasz-Nagy Pal wrote in an essay in the 80`s: ‘todays keywords are: produce specialists on conveyor belt”. He was concerned about the fact that the many specialists, without a good naturalist (which will represent the link to the real world) will give a wrong picture about the world. He propose a new, modern type of naturalist, able to talk with modelists, and various types of specialists and ground them in the real world. More true than ever.

  2. (ps: that modern type of naturalist proposed by JNP 30 years ago now start to be named: interdisciplinary person, or trans disciplinary person, or person with holistic thinking…)

  3. I think there is need for more researchers in ecology, to make sense of complexities – both large-scale analyzers and field naturalists. I don’t find particularly beneficial to contrast these approaches. It would be better (and highly actual) to enlarge the ecology research pie, instead of grabbing more slices.

  4. Pingback: The most popular posts in this blog | Ideas for Sustainability

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