But a new report, co-authored by an anthropologist at the University of Georgia, says that much more attention should be paid at the study sites and elsewhere in America to the social science aspects of long-term ecological study. Without it, a fully integrated picture of how people interact with the natural world may remain incomplete.
"We need a more explicit examination of how social and ecological issues interact," said Ted Gragson. "When we understand better the relation between humans and biophysical systems, our ability to forecast future scenarios will be vastly improved."
The report, by Gragson and Morgan Grove of the USDA Forest Service at the Northeastern Research Station in Burlington, Vt., was published in the current issue of the journal Society and Natural Resources. It leads off an entire issue dedicated to better understanding of social science at LTER sites.
Scientists from UGA have been involved in long-term ecological research at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory near Otto, N.C., since the beginning of the LTER program and have published nearly 1,000 research papers. As is true for all 26 LTER sites within the network, however, research has focused on ecological systems while the human dimension of the interaction between landscapes and people has lagged.
"Most ecological scientific research has focused on biological and physical systems in isolation from human influence, or considered humans and their activities as external perturbations to the functioning of biophysical systems," Gragson and Grove write in their report.