Not Your Grandfather’s Ecology


Ecology is changing. This can be attributed to technology, creativity, and female grit.

Data and Literature: The Open Access Model

The way data is collected is changing. From Smartphone Apps to publicly available data sets. Open data means more types of people can participate in ecology. This is pivotal for ecologists with limited funding or mobility.

Another tool is Sci-Hub. Their mission statement says it all: “To remove all barriers in the way of science”. The DIY ecologist is also on the rise with help from organizations like PublicLab. Do you spend time writing a grant proposal with a 5% funding rate or do you just do the damn science already?

Funding: The Self-made

Science in the U.S. is witnessing one of the largest budget cuts in history. Low funding rates coupled with University overhead is fueling the popularity of crowd-funding sites like Experiment. This creates an entrepreneurial spirit akin to 18th century naturalists like Alfred Russell Wallace. His financial difficulties led to creative endeavors that funded his research. Self-made.

Productivity Obsession: Is there a limit to the speed of science?

The ongoing extinction of cubicle jobs attests to technological advancements that have changed how the world works. Jobs have been replaced by computers. In ecology, technological advancements have given rise to working smarter. This manifests in ironically lengthy blogs about time-management and productivity tools (like Pomodoro,  WunderList, If This Then That, GoogleDrive, the list goes on).

A Different Kind of Review

Related to the notion of faster science, a new form of review has evolved. The slogan of Axios Review is “Aim High, Publish Fast”. Just try it already.

Gender Equity: Slow but Steady

Change can also happen slowly. Especially when it’s related to deeply embedded social and cultural norms. Despite the horrors of being a female in ecology our numbers are (slowly) rising. I idolize every senior female in ecology and I can’t imagine the enormous amount of bullshit they had to endure to get to where they are, because I’m still enduring an enormous amount of bullshit to get here, to exist here. Shifting baseline, hopefully.

Collaborations: Going Global

Europe was instrumental in the development of ecology in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 20th century, that center shifted to the United States. Now, China is a rising force. The new ecology is collaborative in nature and, more importantly, encompasses a greater portion of the global non-white community. This is good news because diversity begets creativity.

Map of scientific collaboration (O.H. Beauchesne)

Despite these advances, I wonder whether ecologists are taking full advantage of the technological tools and entrepreneur spirit that is transforming the world. Resistance to change is natural, but so is change itself.

The days of the Old Boys Club are numbered.