The uptake of applied ecology


¶Correspondence: Prof. S. J. Ormerod: Tel.: 01222 875871, Fax: 01222 874305,


  • 1We asked 229 authors who have published recently in the Journal of Applied Ecology (1999–2001) whether their papers made management or policy recommendations and whether they had evidence of consequent uptake.
  • 2A total of 108 respondents working in the UK (34%), Europe (30%), the Americas (12%), Australasia (11%), Asia (7%) and Africa (6%) reported on 110 papers. They represented agro-ecosystems (35%), temperate forests or woodlands (16%), savanna, grass or arid lands (11%), rivers or wetlands (10%), estuaries or marine systems (7%) and tropical forests (5%). The major organisms were invertebrates (27%), birds (24%), mammals (21%) and higher plants (21%). Topics apparently under-represented in recent coverage include ecosystem science, urban areas, soils, mountain systems, fish, amphibians and lower organisms such as algae.
  • 3Almost all papers (99%) carried recommendations and for 57% there was evidence of uptake in the broad categories of ‘environmental management or models’, ‘information, training and education’ and ‘monitoring and assessment’. Most uptake involved large geographical scales through habitat or species management plans (32% of cases), effects on reserve design or designation (6%), and effects on agri-environmental policy (5%). The development of further research (11%), the communication of methods to other ecologists (9%), the dissemination of recommendations to practitioners or agencies (7%), and uptake in training or education (5%) were important uses of information.
  • 4Prestige from publication in the Journal of Applied Ecology aided several authors in convincing end-users of research value. User involvement in research as participants or funders was widespread (> 42% of papers), a fact which almost certainly promotes uptake along with the parallel dissemination of management messages. We view applied issues as an important interface between end-users and ecologists of value to ‘both’ communities but suggest that improved communication will further benefit the sponsorship and application of ecological science.
  • 5The major reason offered for lack of uptake was that it was still too soon after publication (21% of respondents). Costs, difficulty of implementation, the scale of the problem, and ‘challenges to existing thinking’ each figured in more than one response.
  • 6For some respondents, papers were led by curiosity rather than the need for direct application. Several authors published in the Journal to share ideas internationally, or said that recommendations were general, conceptual or long-term rather than specific. The editors of the Journal of Applied Ecology recognize the seminal importance of contributions that affect policy incrementally and conceptually as much as those with specific application.
  • 7These data provide evidence that ecological science is aiding environmental management and policy across a wide range of regions, ecosystems and types of organisms; rather than merely detecting problems, applied ecology is offering solutions both directly and more diffusely through conceptual advance. We invite the user community to offer their own perspectives about the value of research-led publications such as this Journal, about how links between researchers and users might be strengthened, and about how the uptake of applied ecology might be further advanced.