Research Techniques in Animal Ecology: Controversies and Consequences

Research Techniques in Animal Ecology: Controversies and Consequences

Research Techniques in Animal Ecology: Controversies and Consequences

Research Techniques in Animal Ecology: Controversies and Consequences

Synopsis

The present biodiversity crisis is rife with opportunities to make important conservation decisions; however, the misuse or misapplication of the methods and techniques of animal ecology can have serious consequences for the survival of species. Still, there have been relatively few critical reviews of methodology in the field. This book provides an analysis of some of the most frequently used research techniques in animal ecology, identifying their limitations and misuses, as well as possible solutions to avoid such pitfalls. In the process, contributors to this volume present new perspectives on the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data. Research Techniques in Animal Ecology is an overarching account of central theoretical and methodological controversies in the field, rather than a handbook on the minutiae of techniques. The editors have forged comprehensive presentations of key topics in animal ecology, such as territory and home range estimates, habitation evaluation, population viability analysis, GIS mapping, and measuring the dynamics of societies. Striking a careful balance, each chapter begins by assessing the shortcomings and misapplications of the techniques in question, followed by a thorough review of the current literature, and concluding with possible solutions and suggested guidelines for more robust investigations.

Excerpt

As science, ecology is often accused of being weak because of its basic lack of predictive power (Peters 1991) and the many ecological concepts judged vague or tautological (Shrader-Frechette and McCoy 1993). Also, important paradigms that dominated the ecological scene for years have been discarded in favor of new concepts and theories that swamp the most recent ecological literature (e.g., the abandoning of the island biogeography theory in favor of the metapopulations theory; Hanski and Simberloff 1997). The apparent ease with which such changes seem to be accepted could be taken as an intrinsic weakness of ecological disciplines; in fact, many ecologists seem to have an inferiority complex with respect to sciences considered more rigorous, such as physics or chemistry. Thus, when ecology has to provide the basis for environmental conservation and management, this presumed weakness is easily instrumentalized by those opposing conservation. In the often sterile debates that are heard, ecology loses credibility and is easily victimized by its detractors.

It is not surprising that many ecological theories and concepts have still not been defined precisely, given the enormous complexity of ecological systems. Yet ecology is rooted in the scientific method applied to the observation and experimentation of natural facts. Rather than a discipline whose experimental practice is informed by laws and invincible paradigms, ecology is a classically bottom-up discipline in which the application of the scientific method to real facts and processes gradually builds a body of knowledge that can give rise to useful generalizations. But the complexity of ecological processes and their variability is such that any generalization conflicts with the need to account for all possible variations. It is in this light that the rigor of the results achieved in the study of real cases takes on fundamental value. Without embracing such . . .

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