Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Macrosystems ecology: New scientific field looks at the big picture

Date:
February 3, 2014
Source:
Michigan State University
Summary:
Big data is changing the field of ecology. The shift is dramatic enough to warrant the creation of an entirely new field: macrosystems ecology. "Ecologists can no longer sample and study just one or even a handful of ecosystems," said author and macrosystems ecology pioneer.

Big data is changing the field of ecology. The shift is dramatic enough to warrant the creation of an entirely new field: macrosystems ecology.

"Ecologists can no longer sample and study just one or even a handful of ecosystems," said Patricia Soranno, Michigan State University professor of fisheries and wildlife and macrosystems ecology pioneer. "We also need to study lots of ecosystems and use lots of data to tackle many environmental problems such as climate change, land-use change and invasive species, because such problems exist at a larger scale than many problems from the past."

To define the new field and provide strategies for ecologists to do this type of research, Soranno and Dave Schimel from the California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Lab co-edited a special issue of the Ecological Society of America's journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

They worked with many other researchers, funded from the National Science Foundation's MacroSystems Biology program, who have written nine papers showing the advantages of taking such an approach to solve many environmental problems. Data-intensive science is being touted as a new way to do science of any kind, and many researchers think it has great potential for ecology, Soranno said.

"Traditionally, ecologists are trained by studying and taking samples from the field in places like forests, grasslands, wetlands or water and measuring things in the lab," she said. "In the future, at least some ecologists will need to also be trained in advanced computational methods that will allow them to study complex systems using big datasets at this large scale and to help integrate fine and broad-scale studies into a richer understanding of environmental problems."

Ecologists have many decades of accumulated data to which to apply this new perspective. The sources include, many small, individual projects from university researchers, government agencies that have been monitoring natural resources for decades, terabytes of data collected from new or existing field sensors and observation networks, as well as millions of high-definition satellite images, just to name a few.

Paired with the near-endless data deluge is easy access to supercomputers. Analysis that once took months or years to complete can now be conducted in hours or days. Ecologists also have access to the latest statistical modeling and geographic information system tools.

"Even ten years ago, it would have been much harder to take this approach," Soranno said. "We didn't have the wonderful intersection that we have today of great tools, volumes of data, sufficient computing power and a better developed understanding of systems at broad scales."

A significant part of these new approaches involves the integration of biology with other fields, involving scientific, engineering and education areas across NSF, said John Wingfield, NSF assistant director for biological sciences The makeup of newly minted macrosystems ecology research teams should reflect the new demands of data-intensive ecology. Teams should include database managers, data-mining experts, GIS professionals and more.

"An important question we're facing right now is whether ecologists will be the leaders in solving many of today's top environmental problems that need a broad-scale approach," Soranno said. "Seeing the research that has been done to date by macrosystems ecologists already doing this work and reading the papers that make up this issue, the answer is an emphatic 'yes'," Soranno said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. James B Heffernan, Patricia A Soranno, Michael J Angilletta, Lauren B Buckley, Daniel S Gruner, Tim H Keitt, James R Kellner, John S Kominoski, Adrian V Rocha, Jingfeng Xiao, Tamara K Harms, Simon J Goring, Lauren E Koenig, William H McDowell, Heather Powell, Andrew D Richardson, Craig A Stow, Rodrigo Vargas, Kathleen C Weathers. Macrosystems ecology: understanding ecological patterns and processes at continental scales. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 2014; 12 (1): 5 DOI: 10.1890/130017

Cite This Page:

Michigan State University. "Macrosystems ecology: New scientific field looks at the big picture." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140203122829.htm>.
Michigan State University. (2014, February 3). Macrosystems ecology: New scientific field looks at the big picture. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140203122829.htm
Michigan State University. "Macrosystems ecology: New scientific field looks at the big picture." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140203122829.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

The Great British Farmland Boom

The Great British Farmland Boom

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 17, 2014) Britain's troubled Co-operative Group is preparing to cash in on nearly 18,000 acres of farmland in one of the biggest UK land sales in decades. As Ivor Bennett reports, the market timing couldn't be better, with farmland prices soaring over 270 percent in the last 10 years. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy

Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy

AP (Apr. 17, 2014) After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the industry fell under intense scrutiny. Now, small underground nuclear power plants are being considered as the possible future of the nuclear energy. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Change of Diet Helps Crocodile Business

Change of Diet Helps Crocodile Business

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 16, 2014) Crocodile farming has been a challenge in Zimbabwe in recent years do the economic collapse and the financial crisis. But as Ciara Sutton reports one of Europe's biggest suppliers of skins to the luxury market has come up with an unusual survival strategy - vegetarian food. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Mt. Everest Helped Scientists Research Diabetes

How Mt. Everest Helped Scientists Research Diabetes

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) British researchers were able to use Mount Everest's low altitudes to study insulin resistance. They hope to find ways to treat diabetes. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins