What’s up, vegetation science?

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.

Word cloud of the recurring topics coming out of our horizon scan for vegetation science. ‘Vegetation’ is there, of course, but you can see terms like the ‘monitoring’ of ‘change’, the ‘dynamics’ and ‘climate’ pop out big, highlighting how vegetation science will increasingly have to move from what vegetation is and how it can be conserved, to what vegetation can be and can become in a rapidly changing world.  

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.

Fifteen topics considered to be emergent and most impactful by the horizon scan for vegetation science. Each topic was identified to contribute to at least two of the goals we recognized for the field (i.e.: to understand processes, describe patterns, integrate different knowledge systems and communicate science); the goals are represented as symbols (see legend in the lower right corner), so that the outer part of the graph shows, for each topic, its contribution in terms of specific goals. Different colours indicate the different ways that each topic can develop in the field (i.e., developing new frontiers and data types, improving predictions, or advancing research and policy-making).

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.

The fern ‘Asplenium scolopendrium’ growing at the bottom of a large cave in France, a symbol of the complexity and resilience of vegetation

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

This entry was posted in Belgium and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What’s up, vegetation science?

  1. Saurab Babu says:

    This sounds like it was a fascinating two days!

    “…a research field that will more and more be intertwined with society as a whole as natural areas remain under pressure.” really does describe vegetation science well. As someone closely watching and engaging with forestry in India, I see this happening rapidly in the Indian policy space. There’s a lot of activity around moving away from “conservation forestry” to using forests as a more dynamic resource, helping tackle a lot of the economic and climate-related challenges here.

    • Thanks for the kind comment! And yes, I think that’s really important that we humans are increasingly an important component of vegetation, for good and for bad. Integrating this dynamism into vegetation science and ecology as a whole adds a few layers of complexity, but it will be critical moving forward!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s