Networking into the future
Successful research networks create opportunities for sharing ideas, approaches, data, and understanding, opening new avenues of discovery and leading to greater understanding. What circumstances might lead to the establishment of a successful research network? What might indicate that a network has been successful? Do networks have a life expectancy?
Two aspects of ecological research may create environments in which networks are particularly useful. First, some groups of ecologists ask questions in systems that are distinct but that share key characteristics. Comparing systems, or processes, (e.g., invasive species, lakes around the world, nutrient cycling) may add confidence to our understanding of how those systems or processes work. Second, the breadth of disciplines that have been drawn into ecological research, and their varying approaches and languages, has created opportunities for scientists to expand the ways they approach their disciplines. Success of a network can be measured by the creation of opportunities, knowledge, and, if a goal is to integrate disciplines, evidence that network members are drawing on and contributing to different disciplines as a result of their participation in the network. Networks may have defined goals that, once attained, result in their dissolution. For networks that focus on shared characteristics this might occur when the scope of the questions being addressed is no longer compelling to network members. Integration of disciplines may be considered to have been successful when the disciplinary interface has achieved a level of recognition, but a network that was established with that as one goal could continue to support collaborative research within that discipline.