Need for Cross Disciplinary Collaboration

There is a pressing need for increased collaboration among ecologists, economists, and social scientists to order to effectively address global change problems in drylands. Such collaboration is the key to integrated assessments and is imperative if we are ever to achieve social, environmental, and economic sustainability (Table 6.2). This will not be an easy task, of course, as recently noted by ecologist Bob O'Neill: "Ecologists, with some notable exceptions, perpetuate the fantasy of a 'natural world' where human society can be ignored ... Human society and its economic activity are seen as an external driver that perturbs the natural world, not as another dynamic entity within the ecosystem itself."26 We suspect that parallel arguments could be made for the economic and social sciences as well. It is true that the majority of ecologists trained during the 1960s and 1970s conducted research in what they would probably characterize as pristine or "natural" ecosystems. However, given the tremendous scale of current environmental concerns—and the need for fundamental knowledge in order to achieve the goal of environmental sustainability—such esoteric views of the natural world are no longer the norm in ecology. For example, in 1980 the US National Science Foundation (NSF) established the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) network to support research on long term ecological phenomena. This network, which has now grown to 21 sites, represents diverse ecosystems and research goals, including two new sites that focus on urban ecology. These urban LTERs (in Phoenix, Arizona, and Baltimore, Maryland) represent the first attempt to invest similar resources into the study of the long term ecology of urban ecosystems. Ecologists, economists, and social scientists will be addressing questions such as: What constitutes "natural?" What is the relative importance of environmental, social, and economic factors in controlling the functioning of urban ecosystems? Do the key ecological relationships identified in relatively pristine settings operate in a similar fashion in urban landscapes?

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