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Toward an ecology of disasters: a primer for the pursuit of ecological research on disasters

Nathaniel L. Gibson, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee
Elizabeth A. Green, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee
Guido A. Herrera-R, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee
Sarah J. Love, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee
Sophia C. Turner, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee
Maryrose Weatherton, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee
Alexandra S. Faidiga, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee
Amy R. Luo, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee
Michael L. Ngoh, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee
Eric Shershen, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee
Hyun Seok Yoon, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee
Michael J. Blum, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-12707-260422

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Abstract

Ecologists are increasingly becoming interested in disasters, reflecting growing recognition that disasters can present exceptional opportunities to advance fundamental knowledge and appreciation for how ecological research can aid affected communities. Attempts to achieve both objectives can, however, create fractious tensions that result in unfavorable opinions about ecologists and diminish the perceived value of ecological research. Here we outline the merits and perils of “disaster ecology.” We first examine how ecologists have engaged in the disaster cycle, focusing on trends in training and education, research funding, and the prevalence of community engagement in ecological research. We illustrate the global asymmetries in educational opportunities, how funding of opportunistic pursuits can engender discord, and how the discipline has not yet widely embraced approaches that foster community engagement. We then provide a prospectus for improving best practices to advance knowledge and support humanitarian missions. Pathways toward improvement and innovation begin with taking steps to increase interdisciplinary coursework and trainings that prepare ecologists to work with first responders and stakeholders. Expanding the base of funding sources and supporting research spanning the disaster cycle would foster broader integration of ecological expertise into decision making. Greater adoption of community-engaged research approaches also would better address community and stakeholder concerns as well as strengthen the discipline by broadening representation and participation.

Key words

community engagement; disaster cycle; global change; pedagogy; research funding trends; social-ecological systems

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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