Communicating the value of ecology


S.J. Ormerod (e-mail


1. Environmental change and impact continue to create a major need for the application of ecology. We attempted to ascertain whether authors in the Journal of Applied Ecology made relevant contributions at appropriate spatio-temporal scales to the problems that result.

2. A review of 84 papers published in the Journal during 1999 indicated that all carried information of direct value in environmental management, and 46% made explicit management recommendations.

3. The techniques used most frequently by applied ecologists were correlational (48% of all papers; including ordination) or anova-style comparisons between replicated locations that were either purposely manipulated or contrasted on a priori criteria (38%). Models (13%), laboratory experiments, mark–recapture studies and observational work – involving for example stable isotopes – also figured. This breadth reveals how classical and novel approaches in ecology are brought to bear on real environmental problems. The journal continues to publicise innovative new techniques with applied relevance.

4. In keeping with the widespread use of correlation and a priori contrasts, 34% of published studies in 1999 involved time scales exceeding >5–10 years. Similarly, 40% of studies approached problems in large, regional contexts. Applied ecologists are clearly providing leadership in developing methods to tackle challenging questions at spatio-temporal scales beyond the capabilities of manipulative ecological experiments. We will augment this area of the Journal's work with a special issue on large-scale processes in 2000.

5. Only 20% of the papers published explicitly state clearly testable hypotheses, but nearly all state clear aims or questions being addressed.

6. Overwhelmingly, papers approach applied ecology by seeking to assess the effects of anthropogenic factors on ecological systems, and a minority assess the effects of organisms on human activity. Few studies, by contrast, use anthropogenic impacts to test or develop ecological theory. We suggest this is an area ripe for development.

7. Points 2, 3 and 4 above demonstrate how the Journal of Applied Ecology communicates the value and utility of ecology to society at large. We prompt leading ecologists to maintain their involvement with the application of ecology to problem solving. We urge authors to emphasize further the generic value in their work. We predict that applied ecology will continue as a vital tool in detecting ecological problems and informing environmental management. It will emerge also as an arena for advancing the fundamental nature of our discipline.