Last updated March 6, 2017 at 10:41 am
There’s copious evidence showing that environments around the world are changing and that change is occurring at a rate with very few precedents in the history of life. As the planet warms, as the human population grows and encroaches on the remaining natural places, as land clearing and environmental modifications continue at an increasing rate and as so many other factors modify the world away from its natural state, it’s increasingly difficult to monitor and track the progress of the world’s remaining biota.
You can’t simply take a snapshot of the health of a particular environment or habitat without taking into account that you have a picture of a world in a state of flux. That environment is changing as you study it and, unless you have longer-term data on what it used to be like, you will be unable to make serious calculations as to where it is going in the future. In a rapidly changing world, long-term historical data is the key to understanding what the future has in store.
But there are growing pressures against conducting long-term biological studies. Short-term grant funding cycles are ill-equipped to support multiple decades of study and data building that are needed to make sense of the living planet. The pressure to publish lots of short publications rather than a few larger, more comprehensive monographs favours breaking large datasets into smaller, bite-sized pieces.
So, in celebration of the need for long-term studies in the biological sciences, as well as in recognition of the threats to those studies, the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales will be holding a one-day forum at the Australian Museum on Saturday 5th of November. I’ll be there to hear from a wide range of researchers covering off on topics such as understanding the long-term boom and bust dynamics of small mammals in central Australia, long-term studies of bat populations in forests, corals communities, whales and woodlands and so much more. There will also be more reflective presentations such as “Why long-term monitoring is so important – but also hard, so hard to do”. In all, lots of case studies of long-term data sets will be presented as well as critical analyses of the problems of conducting long-term studies.
If you are interested, details of the full-day event can be found on the RZS NSW website.
Disclaimer: Dr Paul Willis, director of The Royal Institution of Australia will be the MC at the NZS NSW Annual Forum on 5 November 2016.