Applied ecology is the science of minimizing human impacts and of supporting ecological systems in an economic landscape. Often though, applied ecologists work in isolation from those economic forces shaping biological landscapes, not really knowing what businesses would like to accomplish for habitat protection or sustainability. At the same businesses are seldom aware of the knowledge, tools and insight provided by ecologists. And perhaps, greater interaction could help turn ecology into a science with direct impact into how human activities proceed and how we manage the impacts of those activities.
This is the premise of a paper by Paul Armsworth and 15 other authors on the ecological research needs of business, appearing in the Journal of Applied Ecology (for an interview with Paul, by yours truly, please go to the podcast, and I should point out that I am an Editor with this journal). The authors include academics, NGOs and industrial representatives, and they've come together to analyze patterns of cooperation and to discuss ways forward.
They reviewed papers appearing in the top applied ecology journals and grant proposals to the National Environmental Research Council (NERC) in the UK to measure the degree and type of interaction between ecologists and different industries. Ten to 15 percent of publications in applied journals showed some business involvement -mostly from the traditional biological resource industries (farming, fishing and forestry). Further, 35% of NERC proposals included some business engagement, but only 1% had direct business interaction.
Further, the authors reported on a workshop where ecologists and business representatives discussed a number of topics. This included how to minimize negative biodiversity impacts and for industries, such as mining, to consider ecosystem function, and how to develop new ecologically-based economic opportunities, such as insurers managing environmental risk. While there were some challenges identified (such as differing time frames of business needs versus scientific research), the authors note the positive atmosphere and the spirit of collaboration.
The research in this paper should be emulated elsewhere. A better understanding of business needs and desires can only inform and offer opportunities for applied ecological research. Top-down governmental regulation can only take conservation and ecosystem management so far and those who are directly involved in altering and managing ecosystems must articulate goals and desires in order to successfully apply ecological principles to biodiversity protection in an economic landscape.
Armsworth, P., Armsworth, A., Compton, N., Cottle, P., Davies, I., Emmett, B., Fandrich, V., Foote, M., Gaston, K., Gardiner, P., Hess, T., Hopkins, J., Horsley, N., Leaver, N., Maynard, T., & Shannon, D. (2010). The ecological research needs of business Journal of Applied Ecology, 47 (2), 235-243 DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01792.x