A while back we invited you to ask us anything. Here are our answers to our next question, from Pavel Dodonov: how much do scientists from developing countries contribute to ecological research?
Brian’s answer: Short version. A lot. I think there are two kinds of contributions (these apply to researchers from all countries). One is what I call brick-in-the-wall research. In this metaphor science is a very large wall (maybe not such a good metaphor anymore in light of my president’s goals but ignore that). And most science adds a brick to the wall. Yes its a small part of the wall. But it is a permanent part of the wall, and all humans should count themselves lucky when they do something that will outlive them. And more bricks can go on top. Most research is of this brick-in-the-wall type. And of course developing countries do this work too. In many ways their work is often more important than some of the bricks built in the developed world because they are describing species and ecosystems that are very poorly understood. Then there is the more unusual research that helps people organize their thoughts across many bricks. This work is often conceptual, often appears in high-profile journals etc. There are many, many scientists doing this kind of work in developing countries too. Just thinking my own field of macroecology, Alexandre Dinoz-Filho and Thiago Rangel are both from Brazil and doing great work in this area. Adriana Ruggerio is from Argentina. Eduardo Rappaport, also from Argentina, wrote a great book on species ranges and has a macroecological rule named after him. Sadly, I just learned he passed away recently. Pablo Marquet is from Chile. There are nice contributions from China. Ramon Margalef was way ahead of his time, and while you might not consider Spain a developing country today much of his work was done under a dictator when the country was still quite poor. I could name half a dozen really important ecologists from Mexico in various subfields of ecology. And I’m forgetting people who will be annoyed with me, I’m sure! So yeah, plenty of scientists from developing countries do the core synthetic thinking.
But the one thing that is clear is that science from developing countries is the future. Papers from established countries are a shrinking proportion of all papers (with the US proportion declining fastest). Brazil and China are growing especially fast (partly because they are the biggest) but it is a broad phenomenon including many developing countries.