Current ecological thinking emphasizes that systems are complex, dynamic, and unpredictable across space and time. What is the diversity in interpretation of these ideas among today's ecologists, and what does this mean for environmental management? This study used a Policy Delphi survey of ecologists to explore their perspectives on a number of current topics in ecology. The results showed general concurrence with nonequilibrium views. There was agreement that disturbance is a widespread, normal feature of ecosystems with historically contingent responses. The importance of recognizing multiple levels of organization and the role of functional diversity in environmental change were also widely acknowledged. Views differed regarding the predictability of successional development, whether "patchiness" is a useful concept, and the benefits of shifting the focus from species to ecosystem processes. Because of their centrality to environmental management, these different views warrant special attention from both managers and ecologists. Such divergence is particularly problematic given widespread concerns regarding the poor linkages between science (here, ecology) and environmental policy and management, which have been attributed to scientific uncertainty and a lack of consensus among scientists, both jeopardizing the transfer of science into management. Several suggestions to help managers deal with these differences are provided, especially the need to interpret broader theory in the context of place-based assessments. The uncertainty created by these differences requires a proactive approach to environmental management, including clearly identifying environmental objectives, careful experimental design, and effective monitoring.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Global and Planetary Change
- Landscape ecology
- Nonequilibrium ecology
- Policy Delphi survey