The next generation of action ecology: novel approaches towards global ecological research

Rachel White, Alexandra Sutton, Roberto Salguero-Gomez, Timothy Bray, Heather Campbell, Ellen Cieraad, Nalaka Geekiyanage, Laureano Gherardi, Alice Hughes, Peter Jorgensen, Timothee Poisot, Lucia DeSoto, Naupaka Zimmerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Advances in the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge over the last decade have dramatically reshaped the way that ecological research is conducted. The advent of large, technology-based resources such as iNaturalist, Genbank, or the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) allow ecologists to work at spatio-temporal scales previously unimaginable. This has generated a new approach in ecological research: one that relies on large datasets and rapid synthesis for theory testing and development, and findings that provide specific recommendations to policymakers and managers. This new approach has been termed action ecology, and here we aim to expand on earlier definitions to delineate its characteristics so as to distinguish it from related subfields in applied ecology and ecological management. Our new, more nuanced definition describes action ecology as ecological research that (i) is explicitly motivated by the need for immediate insights into current, pressing problems, (ii) is collaborative and multidisciplinary, incorporating sociological in addition to ecological considerations throughout all steps of the research, (iii) is technology-mediated, innovative, and aggregative (i.e., reliant on ‘big data’), and (iv) is designed and disseminated with the intention to inform policy and management. We provide tangible examples of existing work in the domain of action ecology, and offer suggestions for its implementation and future growth, with explicit recommendations for individuals, research institutions, and ecological societies.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2015

Bibliographical note

ESA Centennial Paper. © 2015 White et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


  • Action Ecology
  • Applied Ecology
  • Big Data
  • Citizen Science
  • Environmental Leadership
  • Environmental Management
  • Multidisciplinary
  • Planetary Stewardship
  • Training
  • Translational Ecology


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