Kuebbing, S. E., A. P. Reimer, S. A. Rosenthal, G. Feinberg, A. Leiserowitz, J. A. Lau, and M. A. Bradford. 2018. Long‐term research in ecology and evolution: A survey of challenges and opportunities. Ecological Monographs 88:245-258.
Long‐term research in ecology and evolution (LTREE) is considered fundamental for understanding complex ecological and evolutionary dynamics. However, others have argued for revision of LTREE efforts given perceived limitations in current research priorities and approaches. Yet most arguments about the benefits and failings of LTREE could be argued to reflect the views of only the limited number of scientists who have authored reports on the field, and not the wider community of ecological and evolutionary scientists. To more systematically and quantitatively assess the views of the community on LTREE contributions and future activities, we conducted and here report the results of a survey of ecological and evolutionary scientists at primarily U.S.‐based institutions, completed by 1,179 respondents. The survey objectives were to (1) identify and prioritize research questions that are important to address through long‐term, ecological field experiments and (2) understand the role that these experiments might play in generating and applying ecological and evolutionary knowledge. Almost 80% (n = 936) of respondents said that long‐term experiments had contributed “a great deal” to ecological understanding. Compared to other research approaches (e.g., short‐term, single‐site, modeling, or lab), there was overwhelming support that multi‐site, long‐term research was very important for advancing theory, and that both observational and experimental approaches were required. Respondents identified a wide range of research questions for LTREE to address. The most common topic was the impact of global change (n = 1,352), likely because these processes play out over many years, requiring LTREE approaches to fully understand. Another recurrent theme was the potential of LTREE approaches to build evolutionary understanding across all levels of ecological organization. Critical obstacles preventing some scientists from engaging in LTREE included short‐term funding mechanisms and fewer publications, whereas the longer‐term value for advancing knowledge and an individual’s career were widely recognized. Substantive advances in understanding ecological and evolutionary dynamics then seem likely to be made through engagement in long‐term observational and experimental research. However, wider engagement seems dependent on a more supportive research environment and funding structure, through increased institutional acknowledgment of the contributions of long‐term research, and greater program support during the establishment and maintenance of research.
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