Integrating Science and Society through Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research

Environmental Ethics 30 (3):295-312 (2008)
Abstract
Long-term ecological research (LTER), addressing problems that encompass decadal or longer time frames, began as a formal term and program in the United States in 1980. While long-term ecological studies and observation began as early as the 1400s and 1800s in Asia and Europe, respectively, the long-term approach was not formalized until the establishment of the U.S. long-term ecological research programs. These programs permitted ecosystem-level experiments and cross-site comparisons that led to insights into the biosphere’s structure and function. The holistic ecosystem approach of this initiative also allowed the incorporation of the human-dimension of ecology and recently has given rise to a new concept of long-term socio-ecological research (LTSER). Today, long-term ecological research programs exist in at least thirty-two countries (i.e., members of the International Long-Term Ecological Research Network, ILTER). However, consolidation of the international network within the long-term socio-ecological research paradigm still requires: (1) inclusion of certain remote regions of the world, such as southwestern South America, that are still poorly represented; (2) modifications of the type of research conducted, such as integrating social and natural sciences with the humanities and ethics; and (3) the incorporation of findings and results into broader social and political processes. In this context, a nascent long-term socio-ecological research network in Chile, which extends over the longest latitudinal range of temperate forest in the Southern Hemisphere, adds a new remote region to international long-term ecological research previously overlooked. In addition, collaboration with the University of North Texas and other international partners helps to further develop an interdisciplinary approach for the integration of the ecological sciences and environmental philosophy together with traditional ecological knowledge, informal and formal education, policy, the humanities, socio-political processes, and biocultural conservation
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