Ecology and the social sciences


*Correspondence author. E-mail:


  • 1The urgency and complexity of current environmental problems require ecologists to engage in cross-disciplinary research with social scientists, among others.
  • 2This study explores what ecologists expect from such cross-disciplinary engagements, through a review of editorial statements in key ecological journals and an empirical survey of ecologists working with social scientists.
  • 3Ecologists were found to have different perspectives on collaborating with social scientists depending upon whether they had an instrumental or non-instrumental outlook on the role of social sciences.
  • 4Ecologists are also pursuing other approaches to incorporate human dimensions into their work, including engaging end-users and stakeholders in their research; and enlarging the scope of ecology to include human subjects/objects in their research focus.
  • 5Synthesis and applications. Ecologists face strategic choices when incorporating human/social dimensions in their work – whether engagement with stakeholders, enlargement of ecology as a life science, or active exchange with the social sciences. The choice depends on the stance taken on the place of humans in nature. Each strategy poses specific challenges for ecologists relating respectively to: the justification of how and which stakeholders to engage; the avoidance of naïve borrowings of terms and methods from the social sciences; and the training needed for working in interdisciplinary teams.