Ecology Letters (2009) 12: 1277–1286
Concern about the ecological consequences of global change has increasingly stimulated ecologists to examine the futures of ecological systems. Studying futures is not only a crucial element of the interaction between science, management and decision making, but also a critical research challenge per se, especially because futures cannot be observed or experimented on. In addition, researchers can encounter methodological and theoretical difficulties, which make interpretations and predictions problematic. In the literature which deals with futures of ecological systems two main lines of research can be distinguished: a predictive approach, which dominates the literature, can be contrasted with a rarer number of studies that elaborate potential scenarios for ecological systems. Scenario approaches currently concern mainly contacts with stakeholders or decision makers, or the use of climate scenarios to derive projections about ecological futures. We argue that a new direction for ecological futures research could be explored by using ecological scenarios in combination with predictive models to further fundamental ecological research, in addition to enhancing its applied value.