OISE 2018: Ecological Knowledge and Prediction

Ecological Knowledge and Predictions:
Integrating Across Networks and National Observatories


February 19-21, 2018

Environment & Natural Resources (ENR2) facility

University of Arizona

Tucson, AZ


Invitation: Early Career Scientists

Organizing Committee


Name Affiliation
Michael Dietze, Chairperson Boston University
Rachel Gallery, Local Host University of Arizona
Rodrigo Vargas University of Delaware
Jason McLachlan Notre Dame


Workshop Objectives


The science of ecology, and its relevance to society, are both in a period of rapid change. As a society, we are becoming increasingly globalized, while at the same time facing a growing number of environmental challenges, many of which are likewise international in scope and extent (e.g., climate change, invasive species, infectious disease). At the same time, our ability to measure and monitor the world around us has changed dramatically, both through technology development (e.g., remote sensing, automated instrumentation, high-throughput sequencing) and through the establishment of both top-down ecological observatories and bottom-up research networks. Our relationship with data has also shifted, becoming more open and interconnected rather than the protected, site-specific property of individual labs. These observatories and networks are changing the questions we are asking as a community and the scale we are asking them at.

Addressing both scientific hypotheses and environmental challenges at a global scale will require working across international networks and observatories. However, the aim of this meeting is not to get bogged down in well-trodden technical discussions of standards and interoperability, but to engage in a forward-looking and science-focused discussion about how networks and observatories can accelerate ecological knowledge-generation and predictive capacity. What scientific advances can we achieve in the near term, given data that is available or coming online? What new initiatives (e.g., training, education, tool development, cyberinfrastructure) would accelerate the scientific progress in, and societal relevance of, global ecology? Overall, this workshop is organized around three major themes:

  1. From Data Networks to Knowledge Networks: A generation of ecologists has worked hard to shift the norms for data sharing, with the resulting data networks that have emerged being the direct result of that dream. As the research community has evolved, we are now well-positioned for a second paradigm shift that will take us to the next level – beyond storing and mining raw data, how do we store, mine, and synthesize our knowledge about, and understanding of, ecological systems? A key challenge is that the pace and volume of ecological research has outstripped the capacity for many of us to understand, remember, and synthesize through traditional means (e.g., research papers, reviews, meta-analyses). Perhaps more than any other field of science, ecology suffers from a hyperdiversity of case studies and only limited first-principles frameworks for organizing and synthesizing information. For ecology to advance, and efficiently use its existing knowledge to improve decision making and target new research, this will require that we augment our understanding with new cyberinfrastructure, models, databases, and artificial intelligence. Nowhere is this more pressing than in the synthesis across global data networks and observatories. Discussion will focus on barriers and opportunities for moving beyond data networks.
  2. Ecological Forecasting: Beyond tallying understanding and knowledge, there is growing interest in making ecology more predictive. This is motivated both by the desire to accelerate research and make ecology more rigorous, and by the imperative for decision making to be informed by the best available information about what will happen to systems in the future. Many important forecasting problems (e.g., climate change, invasive species/migration, globalization of resource extraction, emergent infectious disease) invoke transnational processes, even when the goal is simply local understanding. Discussion will focus on identifying key opportunities to advance both research-focused and decision-focused ecological forecasts in terms of specific problems and overarching broad concepts (e.g., teleconnections, scaling, trend detection, quantifying function).
  3. Training, Education, and Outreach: Across all Earth and Environmental Science disciplines, data are accumulating faster than our capacity to synthesize them. Urgently needed are scientists with both an extensive formal background in a specific discipline and extensive experience in applying informatics, statistical, and forecasting methods to create knowledge, develop novel hypotheses, and improve predictive capacity. It is necessary to train “multilingual” scientists who can communicate across disciplines and who have a solid foundation in experimental design, statistical theory, and data mining. These scientists will fill a niche that will develop and define the research agenda for decades to come. Focusing at an international scale, this workshop will address the following questions: How can we prepare the next generation of ecologists to tackle global ecological questions and challenges? How can we scale-up and collaborate on current educational approaches to ensure international perspectives and access and to foster collaboration and cross-fertilization? Likewise, how do we reach out to the public both as citizen science participants in, and consumers of, global ecological research?


Workshop Organization and Agenda


The format of the meeting is designed to focus on communication and discussion. Specifically, we will employ a combination of rapid, engaging, and focused presentations with discussions in break-out groups. Lightning talks (5 min for researchers, 10 min in Day 1 for observatories) increase the attention of participants and maintain an engaging pace to the meeting that discourages distractions. Short talks also force speakers to be organized and focused on the most relevant issues.

While only a subset of participants will present lightning talks, following these talks all participants will be invited to present one individual ‘lightning slide,” with a 60 sec time limit, for each of the focal areas. The preparation of these slides encourages all participants to organize their thoughts about each topic ahead of time, while also ensuring that everyone at the meeting gets a chance to share their prior ideas without interruption. Finally, within each focal area we will organize into break-out groups according to different subtopics. This will ensure that the majority of the time at the meeting is spent on active small-group discussion and brainstorming.

Day 1

    1. Greeting/Introductions
    2. Where are we now: Observatories and Networks
    3. From data to knowledge: Presentations
    4. From data to knowledge: Break-out groups

Day 2

    1. Ecological Forecasting: Presentations
    2. Ecological Forecasting: Break-out groups
    3. Field Trip: Santa Rita NEON site, Flandrau Center Catalina CZO exhibit

Day 3

    1. Training, education, and engagement: Presentations
    2. Training, education, and engagement: Break-out groups
    3. Synthesis and conclusions


In addition to sessions on each of the focal areas, the meeting will also include a field excursion, which will visit the NEON D14 Santa Rita core site.

The results of the workshop will primarily be distributed via the meeting webpage, a short ‘meeting report’ article (e.g. EOS), and social media. The meeting website will include workshop presentations (lightning talks and single slides) and break-out group notes, but all participants will be given an opportunity (three weeks post workshop) to redact slides and comments that they want shared publicly. There is no prior commitment to produce a formal white paper or peer-reviewed review/concepts paper, but this option will be discussed at the workshop.