Place, case and process: Applying ecology to sustainable development

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We outline a pragmatic approach through which ecologists, by participating in interdisciplinary research, can engage with sustainable development. The approach is based on three points of intersection that facilitate the integration of ecological insights with insights from other disciplines and stakeholders. The first point of intersection, place, emphasizes the value of carefully choosing where to conduct an interdisciplinary research project. We argue that, from a sustainability perspective, research will be of most applied value if it takes place in locations that actually face urgent sustainability problems (including biodiversity decline). The second point of intersection, case, suggests that integration among different disciplines can be facilitated by choosing common study cases or units of analysis. For example, ecologists and scientists from other disciplines can focus on the same farms, villages or landscapes in their work. Sharing cases helps to create comparable data for integration, but also facilitates communication across disciplinary boundaries because it creates shared experiences in the field. The third point of intersection, process, relates to operational features of team research that improve integration across disciplines and communication with stakeholders. Key process-related features are working in a small, co-located team, planning for independent as well as joint project activities, involving some key stakeholders early on in the research process, and carefully targeting communication at different relevant audiences. In combination, an approach centred around place, case and process provides a tangible and pragmatic way for ecologists to meaningfully engage with real-world sustainability problems.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBasic and Applied Ecology
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)187-193
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 05.2014

    Research areas

  • Ecosystems Research - Coupled human and natural systems, Human-environment systems, Interdisciplinarity, Social-ecological systems, Sustainability science, Sustainable development, Transdisciplinarity