A vision for ecology's future: where are we today?


  • Nancy Grimm,

  • Alan Covich,

  • Jerry Melillo

Two years ago, the Ecological Society of America's (ESA) EcoVisions Project (Palmer et al. 2004, Science 304: 1251–52) set forth an ambitious agenda for ecology that built upon the nearly 15-year tradition of the Sustainable Biosphere Initiative (SBI). The ESA Board then considered the EcoVisions recommendations in the context of ESA's Strategic Plan, and selected four for immediate action: (1) establish Rapid Response Teams (RRTs), composed of ESA members, to interact with Congress on ecological issues ranging from climate change to invasive species; (2) explore ways to effectively communicate our science and its implications for sustainability to a large audience; (3) increase the Society's efforts in education, especially for under-represented groups; and (4) promote international activities across the Americas and beyond.

In the fall of 2004, eleven RRTs were established. These teams have already provided timely scientific advice to Congress about the Endangered Species Act, Hurricane Katrina, and the ecosystem services provided by wetlands (see http://esa.org/experts).

In an effort to reach policy makers outside of Washington, DC, the ESA is also developing plans to add a regional component to informing policy with ecological knowledge. This effort is motivated by the observation that local-to-regional decision making often has a greater impact on critical environmental issues than does national policy. Two study committees are working to shape this initiative; one takes a broad view on regional issues across the nation, while the other will be involved in rebuilding Gulf Coast landscapes.

The ESA continues to expand its commitment to ecological educational programs. Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology, the society's web-based undergraduate education tool, and EcoEdNet, a digital library of ecological education resources, have both been greatly expanded. Our efforts to educate young scholars from under-represented groups continue to grow through the Strategies for Ecology Education, Development, and Sustainability (SEEDS) program. About 25 SEEDS students participate in semi-annual field trips; in early March, 12 current and former fellows, together with six faculty members and staff, attended a leadership workshop in Phoenix, AZ, and 16 students traveled to Mérida, Mexico, for the ESA's meeting, “Ecology in an Era of Globalization”. An international extension to the SEEDS program is also in the planning stages.

The ESA is partnering with ecologists from other countries to build a forward-looking, international science. Our colleagues from the Federation of the Ecological Societies of the Americas were active participants in the Mérida meeting. On behalf of the Federation, the ESA has translated six Issues in Ecology into Spanish. The relationship between ESA and the Ecological Society of China has recently been strengthened by our support of two international conferences on sustainability, both held in China. In the fall of 2005, ESA signed an agreement with the Chinese Government, to make its publications available online to 401 institutions across China.

In order to launch and carry out all of these new initiatives, the ESA Governing Board approved the hiring of a development specialist to assist in raising the necessary funds. As a result, Director of Development Fran Day began work in February and looks forward to your help in building ESA's programs.

Since the 1991 publication of the SBI, the ESA has promoted activities that build capacity for research and education in support of sustainability goals. The EcoVisions Report called for a continuation of capacity building in a number of ways, including designing, building, and using new instrumentation; fostering data sharing; and promoting interdisciplinary research. Now, the Society is turning its attention to these challenges. For example, ESA leadership recently approved a data registry for studies published in its journals, and is working to promote the goal of free and open data access for all environmental sciences. In addition, ESA staff and membership have actively participated in development of the National Ecological Observatory Network and parallel, community-based plans for ecological research integrated with social science (led by the Long-Term Ecological Research [LTER] network).

Finally, building community is perhaps the most fundamental – and challenging – issue that we need to confront. A coherent ecological research and education community is one that builds upon excellent individual and collaborative science, as well as having a unique and recognizable set of scientific goals, a clear identity with respect to the larger scientific world, and a contribution to make to society. Working as a group, ecologists have already seen success in creating the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and the LTER program. These are examples of how a community can conceive, design, and support projects that go beyond what can be accomplished by individuals or smaller groups. Yet much remains to be done. With the help of an active and involved membership, the ESA leadership stands ready to foster a more integrated and effective community for ecological science.

inline image

Nancy Grimm, ESA President

inline image

Alan Covich, ESA President Elect

inline image

Jerry Melillo, ESA Past President