Our research focuses on the population dynamics of plants and how they are influenced by impacts of natural disturbances and global environmental change. We are particularly interested in the interactive effects of fire, grazing and drought in grasslands and woodlands in southern Australia, and how climate change, fragmentation and shrub encroachment affect ecosystems.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Advertising research: invasions in alpine ecosystems

Ox-eye Daisy - I think this will
be one of the big threats to
alpine systems in the coming decades.
Photo: John Morgan, Dinner Pain, Jan 2013
Here's a little bit of an advertisement about my research on invasions in the Australian alps. My university is big on doing these little staff profiles (your research in 3 Dot Points!), so I thought I'd share with you.

Go to:

Interestingly, many of my colleagues groan when asked to do this sort of thing, but I see it as very much part of my 'job'. Communicating to land managers, policy makers, peers and the public should be fundamental to the discipline. After all, much of what we do is contest ideas about how nature works, how it can be predicted, and what sort of environmental future we want to encourage. These ideas are often new, challenge accepted paradigms and, importantly, can lead to improved land management. It's unlikely they'll just magically be adopted.

So why are (some) research academics so poor at communicating ideas to those outside academia?

There are some excellent exceptions to this of course! If you follow an ecologist on Twitter, a Blog, or excellent sources such as The Conversation, then you've already come across those scientists willing to engage beyond their own field of peers. But what about how this is perceived?

Personally, I think there is a view that 'advertising' your research can be seen as (a) needy and (b) self-congratulatory. "The work should speak for itself!" Perhaps! But, and as the tenor of discussion at meetings I attend with managers would attest, perhaps this view is (c) selfish and (d) arrogant. Particularly in the current era where scientific publication rates and volumes are sky-rocketing. I have enough trouble keeping up to date with new and exciting research.  To assume that those that use science (i.e. students, managers, governments) need to seek it out themselves would seem to immensely under-value our work. Why would they seek it out........unless they knew it existed in the first place.

This is not a call for ecologists to get on the media bandwagon, nor do stunts to get noticed. Far from it. Rather, I think what I'm really suggesting is that ecologists need to know that the 'users' of their work are really hungry for information. Ecological literacy in the field of conservation and land management is rising and, because there are lots of vehicles to engage with these users, ecologists should be open to engaging in these non-traditional ways.

There is a danger that end-users of information will rely heavily on those ecologists that are accessible to them. Such a narrowing of world views is probably not desirable. But what is really undesirable for ecologists is to ignore the possibility that their research might just have even greater impact if they engage (or is that 'advertise') through new mediums.