• ecological change;
  • ecological theory;
  • long-term ecological study;
  • modelling;
  • vulnerability assessment


Long-term ecological studies are critical for providing key insights in ecology, environmental change, natural resource management and biodiversity conservation. In this paper, we briefly discuss five key values of such studies. These are: (1) quantifying ecological responses to drivers of ecosystem change; (2) understanding complex ecosystem processes that occur over prolonged periods; (3) providing core ecological data that may be used to develop theoretical ecological models and to parameterize and validate simulation models; (4) acting as platforms for collaborative studies, thus promoting multidisciplinary research; and (5) providing data and understanding at scales relevant to management, and hence critically supporting evidence-based policy, decision making and the management of ecosystems. We suggest that the ecological research community needs to put higher priority on communicating the benefits of long-term ecological studies to resource managers, policy makers and the general public. Long-term research will be especially important for tackling large-scale emerging problems confronting humanity such as resource management for a rapidly increasing human population, mass species extinction, and climate change detection, mitigation and adaptation. While some ecologically relevant, long-term data sets are now becoming more generally available, these are exceptions. This deficiency occurs because ecological studies can be difficult to maintain for long periods as they exceed the length of government administrations and funding cycles. We argue that the ecological research community will need to coordinate ongoing efforts in an open and collaborative way, to ensure that discoverable long-term ecological studies do not become a long-term deficiency. It is important to maintain publishing outlets for empirical field-based ecology, while simultaneously developing new systems of recognition that reward ecologists for the use and collaborative sharing of their long-term data sets. Funding schemes must be re-crafted to emphasize collaborative partnerships between field-based ecologists, theoreticians and modellers, and to provide financial support that is committed over commensurate time frames.