Scientists call for development of ecological forecasting

DURHAM, N.C. -- A broad consortium of scientists has proposed a concerted effort by researchers and policymakers to develop the ability to forecast ecological change in areas ranging from small plots to the entire globe.

The scientists say advances in science and technology could enable forecasts guiding policy to forewarn of invasions of exotic species and disease epidemics, protect the ecology of lakes, rivers and estuaries, and predict ecological impacts of global warming.

In an article in the July 27, 2001 Science, the consortium wrote: "Planning and decision making can be improved by access to reliable forecasts of ecosystem state, ecosystem services, and natural capital. Availability of new data sets, together with progress in computation and statistics, will increase our ability to forecast ecosystem change."

Thus, the consortium called for an initiative in which policymakers would work with ecologists and other scientists to define ecological systems in which it would be both useful and possible to make forecasts.

"This paper is a response to a problem that many ecologists perceive in making our work more relevant to societal needs," said first author James Clark of Duke University. "We devote much effort to understanding the biosphere, and we communicate our findings to the scientific community. But society faces a great number of environmental problems, and if it can't come to us for help and knowledge, there is no place else to go. The federal agencies by themselves can't provide much of the basic scientific understanding of these issues that people need."

However, Clark, who is H. L. Blomquist Professor of Biology at Duke, pointed out that he and his colleagues are emphasizing the necessity of a collaborative effort with decision makers. "If we as ecologists just begin making forecasts without understanding what will be useful to policymakers, governments will pay little attention," he said. "Thus, this paper repres

Contact: Dennis Meredith
Duke University

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