OOS 25 - Planning for Serendipity: The Importance of Surprises in Long-Term Ecological Research

Wednesday, August 9, 2017: 8:00 AM-11:30 AM
D136, Oregon Convention Center
Mark Hebblewhite, University of Montana
N. Thompson Hobbs, Colorado State University
Daniel R. MacNulty, Utah State University
The difference between incremental learning and true discovery is surprise. The history of science is rich with examples of discoveries promoted by serendipity, notable among them, ionizing radiation, the role of DNA in inheritance, the connection between magnetism and electricity, and the Theory of Evolution. The central theme of this organized session is that long-term research can exploit the arrival of novel, disruptive, surprising observations to enable discovery, observations that in short term studies would probably been seen as a nuisance. However, the occurrence of unanticipated events without the proper research context creates more confusion than insight. A research context capable of benefiting from surprises involves three essential elements. Researchers must be sufficiently familiar with the system they study and with the predictions of contemporary theory to recognize observations that are exceptional, observations that are capable of producing new, perhaps transformed understanding. Investigators must have sufficient predictability and continuity in funding to allow them to pursue new observations, observations capable of distinguishing unexpected events from truly stochastic ones. And finally, surprises in ecological studies can be exploited only if they occur within studies conducted with thoughtful design, guided by question-driven research. In this session, we proposal to highlight a diverse array of long-term ecological studies, from marine, to terrestrial, from the subtropics to the arctic tundra, that demonstrate examples of the value of surprises in long-term studies, the discoveries surprises promoted, and the research context that was required to exploit them. This is becoming especially apparent in the era of unprecedented global and climate change, and in addressing the themes of the entire conference of linking biodiversity and ecosystem services. We emphasize that long-term monitoring by itself is not necessarily sufficient to design effective long-term research on ecological phenomenon, and illustrate throughout our symposium the benefits of marrying question-driven ecological research with long-term investment in research. In this symposium, we draw together 10 leading researchers who received funding for their decadal research through the National Science Foundation’s Long-term Research in Environmental Biology (LTREB). With an opening introduction by the recently retired long-term LTREB program manager, Saran Twombly, the session aims to conduct a retrospective evaluation of the past decades of research with a prospective vision for the future of investment in long-term research in ecology and environmental biology.
8:00 AM
 Challenges facing the study of ecological surprises
Saran Twombly, Colorado State University
8:20 AM
 Ecological surprises revealed by the long-term response of a lake ecosystem to changing agriculture in its watershed
Michael J Vanni, Miami University; William H. Renwick, Miami University; Thomas Fisher, Miami University; Emily L. Morris, Miami University; Patrick T Kelly, Miami University; Maria J. Gonzalez, Miami University
8:40 AM
 Early results are not the story: Effects of long-term soil warming on microbial communities and feedbacks to carbon and nitrogen fluxes in a temperate forest
Serita D. Frey, University of New Hampshire; Jerry M. Melillo, Marine Biological Laboratory; Kristen DeAngelis, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
9:00 AM
 Climate change shifts top-down, and bottom-up controls: Plants, grasshoppers, and birds
Gary E. Belovsky, University of Notre Dame; Jennifer B. Slade, University of Notre Dame
9:40 AM
9:50 AM
 The salt marsh as a self-regulating system
James T. Morris, University of South Carolina
10:10 AM
 Surprises and effects of climate change in long-term seed and seedling studies in Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Panam
Margaret R. Metz, Lewis & Clark College; Jess K. Zimmerman, University of Puerto Rico - Rio Piedras; Nancy C. Garwood, Southern Ilinois University; Helene C. Muller-Landau, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute; Renato Valencia, Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador; S. Joseph Wright, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
10:50 AM
 Surprising positive interactions between cattle and wildlife in an African savanna
Corinna Riginos, University of Wyoming; Kari E. Veblen, Utah State University; Wilfred Odadi, Egerton University; Duncan M. Kimuyu, Karatina University; Lauren M. Porensky, USDA-ARS; Grace K. Charles, University of California, Davis; Truman P. Young, University of California, Davis
11:10 AM
 From the gene to ecosystem: Surprising ecological and behavioral implications of the black coat color gene revealed by 20 years of the Yellowstone Wolf Project
Daniel R. Stahler, National Park Service; Douglas W. Smith, National Park Service; Robert K. Wayne, University of California, Los Angeles; Daniel R. MacNulty, Utah State University