Framework to improve the application of theory in ecology and conservation

Driscoll, Don A and Lindenmayer, David B 2012, Framework to improve the application of theory in ecology and conservation, Ecological monographs, vol. 82, no. 1, pp. 129-147, doi: 10.1890/11-0916.1.

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Title Framework to improve the application of theory in ecology and conservation
Author(s) Driscoll, Don AORCID iD for Driscoll, Don A
Lindenmayer, David B
Journal name Ecological monographs
Volume number 82
Issue number 1
Start page 129
End page 147
Total pages 19
Publisher Wiley-Blackwell
Place of publication Hoboken, N.J.
Publication date 2012-02
ISSN 0012-9615
Keyword(s) disturbance theory
island biogeography
research planning
science communication
Tumut Fragmentation Study
unified theory
Victorian mountain ash forest
Summary Ecological theory often fails applied ecologists in three ways: (1) Theory has little predictive value but is nevertheless applied in conservation with a risk of perverse outcomes, (2) individual theories have limited heuristic value for planning and framing research because they are narrowly focused, and (3) theory can lead to poor communication among scientists and hinder scientific progress through inconsistent use of terms and widespread redundancy. New approaches are therefore needed that improve the distillation, communication, and application of ecological theory. We advocate three approaches to resolve these problems: (1) improve prediction by reviewing theory across case studies to develop contingent theory where possible, (2) plan new research using a checklist of phenomena to avoid the narrow heuristic value of individual theories, and (3) improve communication among scientists by rationalizing theory associated with particular phenomena to purge redundancy and by developing definitions for key terms. We explored the extent to which these problems and solutions have been featured in two case studies of long-term ecological research programs in forests and plantations of southeastern Australia. We found that our main contentions were supported regarding the prediction, planning, and communication limitations of ecological theory. We illustrate how inappropriate application of theory can be overcome or avoided by investment in boundary-spanning actions. The case studies also demonstrate how some of our proposed solutions could work, particularly the use of theory in secondary case studies after developing primary case studies without theory. When properly coordinated and implemented through a widely agreed upon and broadly respected international collaboration, the framework that we present will help to speed the progress of ecological research and lead to better conservation decisions.
Language eng
DOI 10.1890/11-0916.1
Field of Research 050202 Conservation and Biodiversity
Socio Economic Objective 970105 Expanding Knowledge in the Environmental Sciences
HERDC Research category C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal
ERA Research output type C Journal article
Copyright notice ©2012, Ecological Society of America
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