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PLoS One. 2013 Apr 24;8(4):e59813. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0059813. Print 2013.

Trends in ecological research during the last three decades--a systematic review.

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Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel.


It is thought that the science of ecology has experienced conceptual shifts in recent decades, chiefly from viewing nature as static and balanced to a conception of constantly changing, unpredictable, complex ecosystems. Here, we ask if these changes are reflected in actual ecological research over the last 30 years. We surveyed 750 articles from the entire pool of ecological literature and 750 articles from eight leading journals. Each article was characterized according to its type, ecological domain, and applicability, and major topics. We found that, in contrast to its common image, ecology is still mostly a study of single species (70% of the studies); while ecosystem and community studies together comprise only a quarter of ecological research. Ecological science is somewhat conservative in its topics of research (about a third of all topics changed significantly through time), as well as in its basic methodologies and approaches. However, the growing proportion of problem-solving studies (from 9% in the 1980s to 20% in the 2000 s) may represent a major transition in ecological science in the long run.

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