February 8, 2023

Interfaces of Global Change Fellows Stephen Plont and Brendan Shea are co-authors of a new article in the journal Ecosphere characterizing "Priorities for Synthesis Research in Ecology and Environment Science". The report, published January 11, 2023, is the result of a 2021 virtual workshop through the National Center for Ecological Analysis & Synthesis (NCEAS) that brought together over 120 scientists from across the globe to brainstorm and produce a guide for collaborative projects looking to address pressing questions around global change over the next decade. 

Led by NCEAS director and ecologist Ben Halpern, the NSF-funded workshop competitively selected applicants to comprise an audience of natural scientists from various career stages, institutions, backgrounds, and geographical locations. Through a series of virtual tasks and engagements, the group unified to highlight several emergent themes regarding process and practice of synthesis research.

Priority Topics and Needs:
  1. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice
  2. Humans and Natural Systems
  3. Actionable and Use-Inspired Science
  4. Scale
  5. Generality
  6. Complexity and Resilience
  7. Predictability
To improve synthesis research:
  1. Expanding Participation
  2. Expanding Data and Knowledge

Synthesis science is an approach to linking data, ideas, knowledge, and tools, within ever-expanding geographical, temporal, and disciplinary networks and scales. Given the complexity of today's most pressing challenges, synthesis research is a key approach to building holistic and inclusive solutions. The priorities, discussions and consensus outcomes from the NCEAS workshop will help provide a framework and mindset of the participating ecologists and natural scientists for years to come.

Photo of Stephen Plont
IGC Fellow & PhD candidate, Stephen Plont
Photo of Brendan Shea holding a fish
IGC Fellow and PhD Student, Brendan Shea

"It has been such a rewarding experience to be part of this collaborative project through NCEAS," says Plont. "One of the major themes to emerge from this paper is a call to increase participant diversity and inclusive research practices in synthesis-driven environmental science questions and I felt that this workshop and manuscript set a standard for large-scale, interdisciplinary, and inclusive collaboration going forward. As a graduate student in a group that spanned the full range of career stages and disciplinary boundaries, I am grateful to see the perspective of so many early career stage researchers helping dictate the direction of global change science in the coming decades. I know I will be coming back to his paper and the lessons I learned from this collaboration throughout my research career."

Shea also felt his experience with the NCEAS workshop highly impactful. “So frequently there’s pressure to do something novel or be ‘first’ – but I think there’s tremendous value in occasionally taking a step back, viewing the state of the science, and establishing a road map for the best ways to move forward." Brendan said he was thrilled to take part in the NCEAS workshop, and even more pleased when the group decided to organize the important discussions that took place into a formal manuscript for publication. "Among the many themes we highlight as priorities for future synthesis research, I hope that practitioners particularly heed the call for increased diversity, representation, and inclusivity in synthesis science.”