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Canada's Species at Risk Act (SARA) and the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) have adopted different approaches to achieve overlapping goals. We compare the ESA and SARA, focusing on the roles of science and policy in determining which species warrant legal protection. Our analysis suggests that each act could benefit from mimicking the strengths of the other, and both could be strengthened by greater clarity and transparency of listing determinations. A particular strength of SARA is that all evaluations of species' status are conducted by a single national scientific body. The ESA does not involve a comparable national body but has more stringent legal deadlines for listing actions, and listing decisions cannot by law consider socioeconomic factors (as can occur under SARA). The conservation of biodiversity would be enhanced if both acts were complemented by additional programs focused on broader efforts that protect more species before individual intervention is needed.
Human activities have substantial impacts on marine ecosystems including rapid regime shifts with large consequences for human well-being. We highlight the use of model-based scenarios as a scientific tool for adaptive stewardship in the face of such consequences. The natural sciences have a long history of developing scenarios but rarely with an in-depth understanding of factors influencing human actions. Social scientists have traditionally investigated human behavior, but scholars often argue that behavior is too complex to be represented by broad generalizations useful for models and scenarios. We address this scientific divide with a framework for integrated marine social-ecological scenarios, combining quantitative process-based models from the biogeochemical and ecological disciplines with qualitative studies on governance and social change. The aim is to develop policy-relevant scenarios based on an in-depth empirical understanding from both the natural and the social sciences, thereby contributing to adaptive stewardship of marine social-ecological systems.
Environmental challenges are complex and require expertise from multiple disciplines. Consequently, there is growing interest in interdisciplinary environmental research that integrates natural and social science, an often arduous undertaking. We surveyed researchers interested and experienced in research at the human-environment interface to assess perspectives on interdisciplinary research. Integrative interdisciplinary research has eluded many of our respondents, whose efforts are better described as additive multidisciplinary research. The respondents identified many advantages and rewards of interdisciplinary research, including the creation of more-relevant knowledge. However, they also reported significant challenges and obstacles, including tension with departments (49%) or institutions (61%), communication difficulties, and differing disciplinary approaches, as well as institutional barriers (e.g., a lack of credit in promotion and tenure). Most (52%) believed that developing interdisciplinary breadth should begin as early as the undergraduate level. We apply our results to recommendations for successful interdisciplinary endeavors.
Classroom research experiences can provide outstanding learning opportunities for undergraduate students while also benefiting faculty research programs. However, such courses often require more faculty work than traditional lecture-based courses do, potentially discouraging instructors. Here, we propose one solution. We describe a research-based course designed and implemented by multiple members of a research team. The students in this course measured insects for an evolutionary genetics experiment while participating in classroom-based discussions, readings, and presentations focused on the nature of science. The benefits of the course were threefold. First, the students reported strong positive gains in understanding the nature of science and their attitudes toward science. Second, this course produced publishable data, which benefited faculty research. Third, members of the research team received valuable training in teaching, teamwork, and data management. If incorporated more widely in undergraduate curricula, courses such as this one could improve both research programs and undergraduate education.
Climate change goes beyond gradual changes in mean conditions. It involves increased variability in climatic drivers and increased frequency and intensity of extreme events. Climate manipulation experiments are one major tool to explore the ecological impacts of climate change. Until now, precipitation experiments have dealt with temporal variability or extreme events, such as drought, resulting in a multitude of approaches and scenarios with limited comparability among studies. Temperature manipulations have mainly been focused only on warming, resulting in better comparability among studies. Congruent results of meta-analyses based on warming experiments, however, do not reflect a better general understanding of temperature effects, because the potential effects of more complex changes in temperature, including extreme events, are not yet covered well. Heat, frost, seasonality, and spatial variability in temperature are ecologically important. Embracing complexity in future climate change experiments in general is therefore crucial.