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Keywords:

  • community ecology;
  • ecology;
  • ecosystems;
  • evolutionary ecology;
  • population ecology;
  • research priorities

Summary

  1. Fundamental ecological research is both intrinsically interesting and provides the basic knowledge required to answer applied questions of importance to the management of the natural world. The 100th anniversary of the British Ecological Society in 2013 is an opportune moment to reflect on the current status of ecology as a science and look forward to high-light priorities for future work.
  2. To do this, we identified 100 important questions of fundamental importance in pure ecology. We elicited questions from ecologists working across a wide range of systems and disciplines. The 754 questions submitted (listed in the online appendix) from 388 participants were narrowed down to the final 100 through a process of discussion, rewording and repeated rounds of voting. This was done during a two-day workshop and thereafter.
  3. The questions reflect many of the important current conceptual and technical pre-occupations of ecology. For example, many questions concerned the dynamics of environmental change and complex ecosystem interactions, as well as the interaction between ecology and evolution.
  4. The questions reveal a dynamic science with novel subfields emerging. For example, a group of questions was dedicated to disease and micro-organisms and another on human impacts and global change reflecting the emergence of new subdisciplines that would not have been foreseen a few decades ago.
  5. The list also contained a number of questions that have perplexed ecologists for decades and are still seen as crucial to answer, such as the link between population dynamics and life-history evolution.
  6. Synthesis. These 100 questions identified reflect the state of ecology today. Using them as an agenda for further research would lead to a substantial enhancement in understanding of the discipline, with practical relevance for the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem function.