Thursday, August 6, 2009: 8:00 AM-11:30 AM
Blrm A, Albuquerque Convention Center
Nickolas M. Waser
The diversity, complexity, and contingency of ecological systems both bless and challenge ecologists. They bless us with beauty and endless fascination; our subject is never boring. But they also challenge us with a difficult task: to develop general and useful understanding even though the outcomes of our studies typically depend on a host of factors unique to the focal system as well as the particular location and time of the study. Ecologists address this central methodological dilemma in various ways. Some seek general insights by replicating observations, experiments, or measurements across taxa, space, and time. This comparative, pattern-analytic approach, makes generalizations in the form of statements about frequencies of occurrence and estimates of parameters or trends. Others seek generality by constructing “pure” theory with potential applicability to many systems. Still others seek to understand universal ecological processes by studying simplified systems that remove some of the complexity of the real world. All of these approaches generate important insights. Paradoxically, many ecologists seek general understanding in a completely different way: they intensively study unsimplified systems in natural contexts – in particular places. We call this little-discussed approach “The Ecology of Place.” It is similar in many regards to Case Study methods increasingly used in the social sciences. What is paradoxical about The Ecology of Place is that an intense focus on the particular somehow yields portable knowledge that can be applied to other places and cases. While we may not yet understand how this happens – that’s for philosophers of science to work out – happen it does: The Ecology of Place has generated important insights. Indeed, some argue that it has been responsible for much of the progress in ecology over the past century. Given the pressing environmental challenges facing the planet, it is critical that ecologists develop an arsenal of effective strategies for generating knowledge useful for solving real-world problems. This symposium inaugurates discussion of one such strategy – The Ecology of Place. Topics include: what The Ecology of Place is; contributions place-centered studies have made to ecological knowledge; the role of theory in place-based research; how general insights arise from a focus on particular systems, as illustrated with two case studies; and how we can build capacity for Ecology of Place by investing in places – field stations – and in place-based collaborative management and educational programs for scientists and nonscientists alike.
Organization of Biological Field Stations