If I had some ideas about the emerging challenges for vegetation science, they asked. I sure did! If I wanted to join a virtual workshop with 21 other early-career vegetation scientists to discuss those challenges? You bet!
It was a very ‘2020’ kind of thing the Young Scientists of the International Association of Vegetation Scientists (IAVS) proposed. As Covid had effectively brought social gatherings to a standstill, opportunities for scientific brainstorming as often happen over coffee-and-cake at conferences had taken a big hit. A blow for new scientific ideas and research avenues, for sure. The IAVS Young Scientists figured that this issue had hit the next generation of scientists the hardest: even in the best of times, it was hard for a young scientists to get their good ideas heard. Nevertheless, it is the young ones from now who would be answering the scientific questions of the future.
Now, we would let our voices and ideas be heard, pandemic or not! We gathered – on Zoom, of course – with 22 young and enthusiastic vegetation scientists from a wide range of backgrounds to perform our Horizon scan. Each of us submitted their own idea of what they thought was the next big research avenue for vegetation science, the sub-field of biology that studies the ecology of plant communities.
Our horizon scan took place in the form of a two-day online workshop held in October 2020. Of the 24 topics originally proposed and discussed by participants, 15 topics were ranked as the most emergent and impactful for vegetation science.
This week, the outcome of this fun two-day workshop got published in the Journal of Vegetation Science (where else would you want it, right?). In this contribution, we present the selection of 15 topics that were ranked by our workshop participants as the most emergent and impactful for vegetation science.
The topics contain methodological tools such as next-generation sequencing, plant spectral imaging, process-based range models and resurveying studies, and permanent plots, which we expect will need to be integrated into vegetation science to lead it into the future.
Overarching, there is the looming impact of global changes, for which we stress the need to integrate long-term monitoring, the study of novel ecosystems, below-ground traits, and pollination interactions, and the creation of global networks of near-surface microclimate data.
Finally, we also emphasize the need to integrate traditional forms of knowledge and a diversity of stakeholders into research, teaching, management, and policy-making to advance the field of vegetation science, a research field that will more and more be intertwined with society as a whole as natural areas remain under pressure.
Much work to do, we believe, as nature is increasingly under pressure by climate and other global changes. We hope that our horizon scan can help identify the ways forward to tackle the issues that are and will come. But most of all, we hope it can become an inspiration, and energize ecologists and vegetation scientists, especially the young ones, with the knowledge that their work is of uttermost importance to save our planet.
Reference: Yanelli et al. (2022) Fifteen emerging challenges and opportunities for vegetation science – A horizon scan by early career researchers. https://doi.org/10.1111/jvs.13119