Undergraduate institutions should play larger research role

A group of 12 biology educators at US colleges and universities that teach mostly undergraduates argues in the May issue of BioScience for coordinating networks to expand the study and teaching of ecology conducted at these institutions. The group, which has launched a network dedicated to continental-scale observations, argues that better coordination of current research efforts will allow “transformative contributions” cost-effectively, while also providing valuable educational experiences for undergraduates.

Most ecological research in the United States is conducted at dedicated institutions or at research universities, where postgraduate students studying for advanced degrees and postdoctoral researchers do much of the work. Yet institutions dedicated to undergraduate education commonly employ ecologists as professors, and many of them now pursue local research projects. Though some of these have produced important results, the projects are typically poorly coordinated with other studies.

Most of the BioScience authors, led by David R. Bowne of Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, have published research reports while responsible for teaching. They point out that undergraduate institutions have some clear advantages as research bases. The research leaders will often have detailed knowledge of local sites of interest. And projects may find some financial support from local governments and other institutions. Undergraduates usually work more closely with their professors than do postgraduates, the authors observe, and the close supervision means undergraduates can conduct high-quality research. Better collaboration on research protocols could expand the scope of studies conducted at undergraduate institutions, as well as increase their relevance to key ecological questions, resource management, and policy decisions.

After noon EDT on 4 May and for the remainder of the month, the full text of the article will be available for free download through the copy of this Press Release available at www.aibs.org/bioscience-press-releases/.

BioScience, published monthly, is the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). BioScience publishes commentary and peer-reviewed articles covering a wide range of biological fields, with a focus on “Organisms from Molecules to the Environment.” The journal has been published since 1964. AIBS is an umbrella organization for professional scientific societies and organizations that are involved with biology. It represents some 200 member societies and organizations with a combined membership of about 250,000.

The complete list of peer-reviewed articles in the May 2011 issue of BioScience is as follows:

Common Ecology. Kevin J. Gaston

Delineating the Ecosystems Containing Protected Areas for Monitoring and Management. Andrew J. Hansen, Cory R. Davis, Nathan Piekielek, John Gross, David M. Theobald, Scott Goetz, Forrest Melton, and Ruth DeFries

Living in a Contaminated Estuary: Behavioral changes and Ecological Consequences for
Five Species. Judith S. Weis, Lauren Bergey, Jessica Reichmuth, and Allison Candelmo

Transforming Ecological Science at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions through Collaborative Networks. David R. Bowne, Amy L. Downing, Martha F. Hoopes, Kathleen LoGiudice, Carolyn L. Thomas, Laurel J. Anderson, Tracy B. Gartner, Daniel J. Hornbach, Karen Kuers, Jose-Luis Machado, Bob R. Pohlad, and Kathleen L. Shea

Gulf of Mexico Oil Blowout Increases Risks to Globally Threatened Species. Claudio Campagna, Frederick T. Short, Beth A. Polidoro, Roger McManus, Bruce B. Collette,
Nicolas J. Pilcher, Yvonne Sadovy de Mitcheson, Simon N. Stuart, and Kent E. Carpenter

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