Monday, April 5, 2010

Where Have All the Naturalists Gone? | Cool Green Science: The Conservation Blog of The Nature Conservancy

An interesting article about the lack of naturalists, and respect for them, was recently posted on the Nature Conservancy's Conservation Blog (see link below). In my own experience, the role of naturalists in science has greatly declined. In the field of ecology, where naturalists once reigned, attention has shifted to the human-nature interface. Once we observed the breeding habits of birds, now we quantify the ecosystem services of the wetlands they inhabitat. Once we developed theories about succession, now we monitor human carbon emissions and ponder the impacts of global warming.

These new avenues of study in ecology are explored because ecologists not only recognize the pressing environmental issues that the current generation must face, but also because budding ecologists seem to think that all of the observational work of naturalists has already been completed. Unfortunately, this isn't necessarily true. As this Nature Conservancy post suggests, the work of naturalists is still needed, both to enhance conservation and advance scientific knowledge.

Finally, the Nature Conservancy post fails to mention one salient point: educational opportunities are dwindling for those who are naturalist-inclined. Even at Duke University, with it's renowned graduate program in ecology, natural history classes are lacking. To take a course like mammalogy or ornithology, not to mention the natural history of North Carolina, one has to look elsewhere -- and this is despite having a talented staff and respected faculty.

Where Have All the Naturalists Gone? Cool Green Science: The Conservation Blog of The Nature Conservancy

Posted using ShareThis

1 comment:

Steph J. said...

Nicki, I found your post more insightful than the TNC post, which I think only glossed the surface of the state of naturalists today and missed the opportunity to discuss the impetus for this trend and the implications of losing the natural history curriculum in our classrooms. What surprised me was the description of tension between modern scientists and naturalists--which, from my experience, is usually mutually respectful and symbiotic relationship. As someone who would dearly love to teach the traditional natural history classes at the university level, these issues are very near and dear to my heart! So, thanks for writing about them!