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Translational ecology- connecting scientists, policymakers and natural resource managers (special issue of Frontiers in Ecology & the Environment)

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Southwest Climate Science Center research team leads emerging transdisciplinary field

By: Dominika Heusinkveld December 1, 2017 Southwest Climate Science Cente

A new issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment published on December 1, 2017 focuses on the emerging field of translational ecology. Modeled after translational medicine, the field aims to connect researchers in ecology with the people who apply that research on a day-to-day basis—policy makers, local governments, and natural resource managers. The goal is to help these groups utilize ecological research for issues such as fire management strategies, forest and land management, and fish and wildlife habitat restoration, among others.

The Southwest Climate Science Research Center is a collaborative partnership between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and six academic institutions across the Southwest U.S., including the University of Arizona which serves as the host institution.

One of the core principles of translational ecology is that resource management decisions informed by scientific research will be better decisions, says Gregg Garfin, author of several papers in the new issue. Scientists and natural resource managers have discovered, however, that this is not always easy.

“It takes around 20 years for scientific findings to make their way to use, when following a traditional pathway,” says Garfin. “It turns out that resource managers don’t have time to follow the scientific literature and that, in order to get management-relevant scientific results on the radars of resource managers, ecologists need to be more proactive—and less insular and academic—by working in partnership with stakeholders.”

Garfin, of the University of Arizona School of Natural Resources and the Environment (SNRE), and Institute of the Environment, is University Director of the Southwest Climate Science Center. Other authors in the issue include Connie Woodhouse of the School of Geography and Development, Carolyn Enquist (SNRE affiliated faculty and Deputy Director of the SW CSC), and Steve Jackson (Geosciences and SNRE affiliated faculty and Federal Director of the SW CSC).

Translational ecology was originally proposed in 2010 by William Schlesinger, former president of the Ecological Society of America. He advocated “constant two-way communication between stakeholders and scientists” as part of a continuing process of learning between researchers and end-users of the research.

“These kinds of collaborations allow decision makers and scientists to better understand each other’s professional cultures, operational languages, and norms,” says Garfin. The end result should be better-informed decisions on issues which affect us all.

Everyone is a stakeholder when it comes to ecology,” says Garfin.

He acknowledges that not all science is suited for translation. “Basic, applied, and actionable science all eventually benefit society. Not every ecologist is interested in translational science approaches…Our aim is to create the space for translational ecology to flourish.”

Work featured in the special issue was funded by the USGS through the Southwest Climate Science Center (www.swcsc.arizona.edu) and National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center.

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