Where's the ecology in molecular ecology?


  • Jerald B. Johnson,

  • Scott M. Peat,

  • Byron J. Adams

J. B. Johnson (jerry.johnson@byu.edu), S. M. Peat and B. J. Adams, Evolutionary Ecology Laboratories, Dept of Biology, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602, USA. JBJ also at: M. L. Bean Life Science Museum, Brigham Young Univ., Provo, UT 84602, USA.


Molecular techniques have had a profound impact in biology. Major disciplines, including evolutionary biology, now consistently utilize molecular tools. In contrast, molecular techniques have had a more limited impact in ecology. This discrepancy is surprising. Here, we describe the unexpected paucity of ecological research in the field colloquially referred to as ‘molecular ecology.’ Publications over the past 15 years from the journals Ecology, Evolution and Molecular Ecology reveal that much of the research published under the molecular ecology banner is in fact evolutionary in nature, and that comparatively little ecological research incorporates molecular tools. This failure to more broadly utilize molecular techniques in ecology is alarming because several promising lines of ecological inquiry could benefit from molecular approaches. Here we summarize the use of molecular tools in ecology and evolution, and suggest several ways to renew the ecological focus in ‘molecular ecology’.