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Ecological Society of America Strategies for Ecology Education and Diversity

(SEEDS) 2010 Leadership Meeting

Multidisciplinary and Multimedia Approaches to Action-Oriented Ecology

Nadia Rivera, Jesselyn Calderon-Ayala, Leonardo Calle, Songling Du, Brenda Gerald, Mattias Lanas,
Malaya Lualhati, Lorna Moreno, Ana Elisa Pérez, Iman Sylvain, Deborah Vieira, Melissa Armstrong

Humans have emerged from simple beginnings in recent evolutionary time, to become one of the
foremost forces affecting ecosystem structure and function. Evidence compiled over the past several
decades has shown the widespread influence of anthropogenic processes on natural systems. The most
striking examples of this include the creation of novel habitats, the causation of mass species extinctions,
the severe degradation of many ecosystems, and of course, a profound impact on climatic trajectories
(Wilson 1993, Cohen 1995, Hughes et al. 1997, Eldredge 1998, Ceballos and Ehrlich 2002, Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment 2005, IPCC 2007, Ellis and Ramankutty 2008). Our rather recent ecological
understanding has also shown the relative fragility of human systems, and our reliance upon the natural
world (Pearce and Moran 1994, Tol 2002, MEA 2006).

Given the overwhelming implications of this evidence, ecologists must consider the responsibility of
taking their findings beyond the academic realm into disciplines and mediums for communication they
may never have considered before. Translating this knowledge into direct action through conservation
initiatives, environmental justice, sustainability, and community efforts, or into doing research on how
best to accomplish these goals, is what we have termed action-oriented ecology.

Diverse approaches and people involved in tackling ecological issues add great strength to conservation
efforts (Manolis et al. 2008). Through collaboration efforts between environmental activists, community
organizers, artists, and scientists, we hope to foster a dialogue that will broaden, contextualize, and
promote the creativity of all participants in the achievement of a common goal—a sustainable and
“cooler” planet. Greater involvement of ecologists can enhance the understanding and application
of ecological concepts in this struggle, ensuring that scientific rigor is brought to bear on our current
challenges. Uniting disciplines and merging mediums of communication will help us formulate new
strategies and tools to overcome some of the greatest challenges facing our time.

With this in mind, a diverse group of ecology students and scientists met at Hidden Villa Ranch, Los
Altos, California for the annual SEEDS Leadership Meeting to generate action-oriented approaches to
addressing environmental issues. This entailed considering the multifaceted elements involved in problem
solving, and the complex interaction of scientific and human dimensions. Within this framework, the
students and professionals who attended the leadership meeting generated valuable input that provoked
further consideration about the possible courses for action-oriented ecology through scientific research
and collaborative efforts. The meeting theme, “Multidisciplinary and Multimedia Approaches to
Action-Oriented Ecology” was divided into four sub-themes that addressed our overall goal: biocultural

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conservation, science and political action, science and media, and action-oriented ecology.

Biocultural conservation
When considering conservation practices, humans are often left out of the picture, as if we existed
outside of ecosystems. However, as we are the main drivers of ecological change, a new paradigm
is beginning to address the complexities of current environmental issues that integrate biological and
culture diversity, while taking into account the needs of communities. Culture plays an essential role
in solving social and environmental problems. Just as a forest with diverse plant species is better able
to withstand disease, diversity of cultures and perspectives contributes to the resilience of humanity.
Consequently, we believe local communities should take part in conservation and management efforts.
Biological and cultural conservation are needed to protect ecosystems and the complex social and
biological processes that sustain them, and such undertakings are enhanced through multidisciplinary
and multimedia approaches.

Science and media

Media can play an enormous role in sharing ecological knowledge and helping ecologists to take their
findings far beyond the academic realm into disciplines and communities not previously considered.
This helps to generate direct actions through conservation initiatives, education, and community
efforts. During the meeting, SEEDS students demonstrated the potential of media outlets through the
utilization of the online video streaming service, YouTube. SEEDS students created a video entitled,
“Hands of Change” ‹http://www.youtube.com/seedsaction›, which showcased the various steps we take
individually to ensure the development of a more sustainable planet. The relationship between media
and science presents an opportunity and challenge to accurately share scientific knowledge, making
it widely accessible and relevant to a diverse society. Overall, there is great potential of media for
mobilizing scientists and community members in the name of ecology action.

Science and political action

It is evident that interests often overlap in the intent to promote accurate scientific knowledge. At this
interface, political activism and science inevitably come into play. Scientists should consider exerting
their voice in the realm of policy-making. Scientists’ collaboration in the policy-making process provides
professional expertise, advances in scientific knowledge to broader realms, and sound environmental
policies. This process requires envisioning scientists as more than just traditional members of the
scientific community, but also as members of society with dual responsibilities to our colleagues as
well as to our fellow citizens. This challenging role of scientists in advisory committees (governmental
or independent) is becoming more important as science and societal issues are increasingly linked.
Given the impacts encountered at this junction between science and society, SEEDS students discussed
potential challenges that scientists might encounter when engaging in the political arena, followed by a
set of suggestions on how to increase the effectiveness of this process. In the end, the high value placed
upon science and its inclusion in discussions can serve the purpose of expanding possible solutions to
social issues, approaching the political process with caution and thoughtfulness.

Action-oriented ecology and conclusions

In order to visualize the goals in mind regarding action-oriented ecology, we developed a conceptual
model, “Proximate and Ultimate Ecological Goals,” to resemble an island where a researcher might

314 Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America

invest most of her or his time. On this central island, scientific knowledge is utilized for the advancement
of the individual and the profession. However, the dispersal of scientific knowledge off this central island
(the ecology profession) develops connectivity to outlying islands (society: avenues for engagement).
The model reflects the mobility of information to the whole community, including nonscientists such as
our families, other students, as well as professionals in other disciplines. Engagement with the “other
islands” is achieved through activism and the use of other components such as media, education, and
policy, and cross-system collaborations.

Fig. 1. Process of “acting” in action-oriented ecology.

This described multidisciplinary and multimedia approach to an ecology that honors biological and
cultural diversity, breaks open the doors to what has traditionally been considered the role of the ecologist.
Some examples within SEEDS include: SEEDS Chapter outreach to high schools and communities, the
SEEDS Education and Outreach Initiative (SEOI) field trips during ESA meetings, SEEDS National
Coordinated BioBlitz Project (NCBP), and the personal work of many SEEDS students, which often
ties in an action element. What is more, SEEDS students are conversant (or even sometimes incredibly
proficient) in other disciplines such as art, technology, philosophy, engineering, and sociology. This
variety of skill sets further highlights our strength in diversity when we work as a team, making the
“risks” of engaging outside of one’s own discipline much less daunting.

Finally, the essential element of forwarding complex topics was very much present at the SEEDS
Leadership Meeting—listening. Each and every one of the 23 SEEDS students and alumni present, in
addition to our fine mentors, who included ESA President Mary Power, all shared their voices in an
environment of great respect for one another. All taken together, we left the meeting with a renewed

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hope for the future of our planet and the role we can play as ecologists. And this is just the beginning of
the conversation. We invite you to attend our Symposium during the upcoming ESA Annual Meeting in
Pittsburgh: Revolutionary Ecology: Multidisciplinary and Multimedia approaches to Cooling the Planet,
on Friday, 6 August 2010 at 8:00–11:30 am.

Literature cited
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Eldredge, N. 1998. Life in the balance: humanity and the biodiversity crisis. Princeton University Press,
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Ellis, E., and N. Ramankutty. 2008. Putting people in the map: anthropogenic biomes of the world.
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Hughes, J. B., G. C. Daily, and P. R. Ehrlich. 1997. Population diversity: its extent and extinction.
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1–21 in IPCC WGI 4th Assessment Report. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Geneva,
Manolis, J. et al. 2009. Leadership: a new frontier in conservation science. Conservation Biology 23
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Pearce, D. W., and D. Moran. 1994. The economic value of biodiversity. EarthScan, London, UK.
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