Ecology for diversity!

In last week’s post, we discussed the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) for building strong, thoughtful and productive communities in STEMM. We highlighted that our own fields—Ecology—is one of the least diverse STEMM fields. Why is this and how can ecology actively embrace DEIB?

From its origins in the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries, ecology has been the branch of biology that deals with the relationships between living organisms and between those organisms and their environment. But since at least the 1950s, ecology also has been concerned with the effects of humans on the environment and a political movement dedicated to advocating restrictions on industrial and agricultural development that threatens human health and the environment. This second part of ecology is not as well represented as the first in ecological societies, journals, and textbooks, and this absence has contributed to the homogeneity of ecologists.

Studying ecology in all its forms and addressing pressing ecological and environmental issues, from siting polluting industries in minoritized communities to global climate change, requires a diversity of perspectives and approaches. Traditional ecological studies emphasized single individuals studying obscure organisms in remote field sites lacking human footprints (or at least those of non-ecologists). But contemporary ecology takes advantage of many data streams and approaches, including Big Datasets collected by automated instruments analyzed and synthesized by collaborative teams that also include data scientists, software engineers, and health professionals. The result of pulling all these threads together is what Rachel White and colleagues called action ecology.

The four key defining characteristics of action ecology. Figure (CC BY 4.0) reproduced and reused from Rachel L. White et al. (2015) The next generation of action ecology: novel approaches towards global ecological research. Ecosphere 6(8): art134.
The four key defining characteristics of action ecology. Figure (CC BY 4.0) reproduced and reused from Rachel L. White et al. (2015) The next generation of action ecology: novel approaches towards global ecological research. Ecosphere 6(8): art134.

Our own experience over the last several decades illustrates that it’s never too early for students to start working in collaborative teams. Bringing together high-school and undergraduate student-researchers from diverse cultural and disciplinary backgrounds with similarly diverse mentors includes them from the start in a healthy community of STEMM professionals. And in both the short- and long term, these individuals, and the communities of which they are a part, create models and role models for enhancing diversity and inclusion in STEMM.

The Forum published earlier this month in Ecological Applications, to which we contributed an article, lays out steps to start addressing the disconnection between what ecology has been and what it should be. It is time to stop talking, start respectfully listening to all voices, and take action.

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