Many changes in the content and practice of science arise in response to changes in technology. Think for instance of how the advent of the internet has changed how scientists publish and communicate their results. Or think of how the advent of cheap computers changed statistics. PCR is a third example. Tiny GPS tags for monitoring animal movement are a fourth.*
So, what do you think is the next big technological advance that’s about to change ecology in a big way?
Here are a couple of candidates off the top of my head:
- Drones. Potentially let you sample larger and more inaccessible areas more quickly than you could in other ways. See here and here for a couple of recent randomly-googled examples.
- Smartphone apps for identifying organisms. With all due respect for drones, this is my pick for the Next Big Technological Thing in ecology. There are already apps that will identify common birds via their songs, even automatically without user input. I bet the day isn’t too far away when you’ll be able to use your phone to identify a lot of species of plants and animals as quickly and reliably as an expert taxonomist or natural historian could, just by taking pictures or recordings of them with your phone. What’s that going to do for ecology? What new research avenues will it open up? And what does it mean to be a taxonomist or natural historian in a world in which accurately identifying organisms (and then looking up all that’s known about them) is something anyone with a phone can do instantly?
What do you think will be the next technological advance to change ecology in a big way? Looking forward to your comments!
*Totally random aside: way back when I was a grad student, I saw a talk about the movement behavior of large lizards such as monitor lizards. I still remember the speaker’s passing remark that one of the great things about working with monitor lizards is that “you can cover them with sensors and they don’t care.” This remark was accompanied by a picture of a monitor lizard with a chunky radio collar and a big battery pack duct-taped to the base of its tail. Perhaps one day (or even today!), my old school science cred will be that I saw someone give a talk on movement behavior that involved attaching heavy kit to animals large enough not to be bothered by this.