The research foci of ecology (or any scientific field) change over time. Some questions get answered, and so everyone stops working on them. New questions get asked. Some research approaches turn out to be flawed, and so everyone (hopefully!) stops using them. New techniques get adopted. Or maybe everyone just gets bored with studying or arguing about the same old stuff and decides to go do something else.
Those changes often are contested. For instance, expert ecologists often disagree on whether the leading questions of the day have been answered, or else agree that they’ve been answered but disagree on what the answers are! “Revisiting a classic longstanding question” is hard to distinguish from “beating a dead horse.” One person’s bold hypothesis is another person’s vague arm-waving. What looks like the next big thing to one ecologist can look like a trendy bandwagon to another. A result that one ecologist sees as raising important new questions can look trivial to another. Etc.
These changes also aren’t easy to measure. For instance, just because lots of papers continue to cite a classic idea doesn’t mean that idea is still a live topic of ecological research. So citation analyses only provide a crude and error-prone window into what topics ecologists care about these days.
So, my solution is just to ask y’all what classic ecological topics you still care about! 🙂 Below the fold is a fun poll. For each of a number of classic fundamental ecological topics (plus a few contemporary and applied topics, for comparison), you’re asked two questions. How much do you personally care about the topic? And how much do you think ecologists collectively should care about the topic? They’re all multiple choice questions, so the poll should be quick to complete.
A few preliminary remarks:
I’m reluctant to define “care” too precisely. A topic you care a lot about is one that you, well, care a lot about, whether or not you work on it yourself. A topic you think ecologists collectively should care a lot about is a topic you think ecologists should devote a lot of research effort towards, should probably teach to students, etc. Conversely, a topic you think ecologists shouldn’t care about is one that you think nobody should research any more, maybe shouldn’t teach to students, etc.
Note that your own personal level of care about the topic might or might not match how much you think other ecologists should care.
Please skip any topic that you’ve never heard of.
As always, this poll isn’t a rigorous random sample from any well-defined population. It’s intended as a fun conversation starter. Looking forward to your responses! 🙂