IMPACT OR UPTAKE?
On academic indicators of quality, the Journal of Applied Ecology, along with its sister journals from the British Ecological Society (BES), is fortunate in having sustained long-standing impact in the top tier of all ecological journals. It also offers one of the largest circulations and most international perspective among its competitors: in addition to being read widely on all continents, the Journal carries many contributions in which Europe, Australasia, the Americas, Asia and Africa figure prominently alongside those from the UK (see ‘Results’).
For ecology in general, however, and for the Journal of Applied Ecology as one of the leading outlets for applied research effort, academic indicators might reveal only part of our impact. In a world characterized by the need to derive environmental goods and services, and by the ecological problems that often result, ecologists must make contributions that are tangible and lasting. In other words, an important measure of the impact and value of ecological science is in the extent to which our research translates into utility. Part of the mission of applied journals like ours is not only to promote science excellence in ecology, but to take the subject into the wider and challenging domain of applied relevance.
Probably the clearest need for such ecological utility arises from the large number of organizations in all sectors – governmental, non-governmental and business – whose interests are focused on environmental resources. In predominantly rural areas such as Wales, a small country of 2·8 million people, recent estimates suggest that 17% of the total employment (= 169 000 full time equivalent jobs), 15% of good and services, and 9% of the nation’s GDP of £26·7 billion sterling are dependent directly or indirectly on environmental use and management. Even in traditionally more industrial British regions, such as north-eastern England, around 6% of jobs are directly related to the environment; at over 51 000, this is at least as large as other major sectors such as construction, or the manufacture of motor vehicles, chemicals and IT equipment (The National Trust 2001). In both these cases, the majority of environmentally orientated employment is in the use of resources for tourism, agriculture, forestry, fishing, defence, water supply and extraction, but in Wales around 25% (c. 30 000) of the direct employment in this sphere is in jobs that ‘protect and enhance the environment’. Calculations of this sort are difficult. They are, however, just one minor illustration of how all of the global population of over 6 billion people ultimately depend on the use and production of environmental goods and services in all forms. Moreover, the growth of towns and cities worldwide means that ecological science has moved increasingly into urban as well as rural environments; for example, through the introduction of conservation biology into urban planning (Clergeau, Jokimäki & Savard 2001). The key point, nevertheless, is that these economic, planning and subsistence activities are at the heart of applied ecology. Along with a range of other professionals and partners, ecologists help to ensure that environmental use is sustainable; where it is not, they help to detect problems or, of even more value, they offer sound solutions that avoid environmental damage, restore losses and protect key features. Practitioners, user communities, decision-makers and policy-makers from grass roots to senior government administration benefit from our contributions in this respect.
For the Journal of Applied Ecology, one of the key questions is about how much the Journal’s own papers contribute. This question is not only of academic interest because the answer has utility in its own right. It would allow feedback to those who sponsor or promote ecology about the wider impact of ecological research. It would inform our authors and readers about any additional benefits that arise collectively from the work we publish. It could offer examples and evidence to end-users of how the Journal might help their work. Finally, it would allow us to disseminate any good practice that improves the use and uptake of applied ecological research. Hitherto, however, no information of this type has been available. In July 2001, therefore, the Journal of Applied Ecology followed a recent example from Conservation Biology (Flashpohler, Bub & Kaplin 2000) and asked authors of recent papers about the use and uptake of their contributions into policy or management. Although very much a first step in what we see as a continuing debate, this editorial presents the results.