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Why "next-generation"?

Even using some of the earliest dating for the beginning of ecology as a discipline, it has only existed as a field of scientific inquiry for a small number of human generations. In that sense, it might seem bold to call for a next generation of the field already. Then, why do we call ourselves next-generation ecologists? 

From the onset the aim of INNGE has therefore been to combine a demographic focus, to better connect early-career ecologists, with a broader focus on emerging and influential topics in the ecological sciences such as open-science, higher education reform, the ecological sustainability crisis and use of new communication, networking and analytical technology. We call this combined focus Next-Generation Ecology. Here we give examples of the topics that are of general interest for INNGE.

Next-generation technology:“Next-generation” is most often used to describe an invention or technological advance that contributes fundamental new properties to a field, allowing it to advance at a faster speed or in a new direction. Ecology finds itself at a time where such new technologies are enabling remarkable advances. To mention a few:

  • Molecular techniques offer insight into current and past processes at a level previously inaccessible to most ecologists.
  • Computers have revolutionized our capacity to store, analyse, and generate data in only a couple of decades, and constitute an increasing part of ecologists’ daily activities.
  • Remote sensing and geographical information systems enable us to observe ecosystem dynamics without ever setting foot on them, follow animals on amazing migrations, or track the concentration of chlorophyll or algal bloom across all the oceans, at once.

Despite the apparent importance of these technological advances, they are only a facet of next-generation ecology.

Tracking Apex Predators

Next-generation education: More people than ever are accessing advanced education1and ecology is no exception. More people than ever now work in the discipline of ecology. For a student or early-career researcher in ecology its becoming increasingly challenging to overview the many flavors of the field, and the steadily growing population of ecologists.

PhD Factory

However, such growth should be viewed as a tremendous opportunity for synergism, rather than a competitive setup. It means that any ecologist is unlikely to face challenges alone. Many next-generation ecologists are already building extensive border-less networks. Such networks are the basis for fruitful collaborations that go well beyond merely sharing advice; these networks have become the main highway of data exchange, sharing of methods and protocols, etc.

Next-generation communication: We can now communicate in no time with people on the other side of the globe. The internet and cell phones are playing a growing role in making this world even smaller. Efficient communication avenues will likely be essential in facilitating a coherent global community of ecologists. By sharing information on the web, next-generation ecologists have the opportunity to learn and get inspired by how other groups approach ecological questions, independently of their location on the planet.

Next-generation safe operating boundaries and global environmental change: In next-generation ecology, most ecologists’ work have a relation to the intersection between humans and ecology. This is a natural consequence of the growing degree to which ecosystems are influenced by human activity. For example:

  • Human impact on earth is at a point where geologists are seriously considering naming the current geological epoch the “anthropocene”2.
  • Several fundamental components of the earth have or are likely to cross safe operating boundaries for humanity in the near future3

Anthropocentric Planet

Next-generation interdisciplinary work: The impact human activities have on the planet means that ecological systems are in many ways in the hands of human decision making. Ecologists with a hope to tackle the sustainability challenge now more than ever need to cross disciplinary boundaries. In addition to collaborations with other natural sciences, emerging collaborations will increasingly take place with human decision-making fields such as economics, social and political sciences. Following the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of the 1990’s some scientists now call for a so-called Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior4. INNGE will work to convey and further work within all of the above aspects of next-generation ecology.

  1. Cyranoski et al. (2011) "The PhD Factory." NatureNature 472: 276-279.
  2. Jones, N. (2011) "Human influence comes of age." Nature 473: 133
  3. Rockström, J., et al. (2009) "A safe operating space for humanity." Nature 461(7263): 472-475.
  4. Ehrlich, P. R. (2010) "The MAHB, the Culture Gap, and Some Really Inconvenient Truths." PLoS Biology 8(4): 3.

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