Practicing, enabling, and supporting Natural History

Ecology has set itself a large task: the study of interactions between the organisms that inhabit this earth, and the interactions between those organisms and their environment. There are somewhere between 4 and 100 million species on this planet, and we have described roughly 2 million of those species. Of these, less than 1% have been studied in any depth. And the description of each species is just a beginning, as variation among populations, contingency of interactions (due to variation in density, neighbors, climate), and emergent properties (such as feedbacks, thresholds, alternative states etc), create all the hallmarks of a complex system. What is abundantly clear is that the details matter, and the study of these details is the practice of natural history. We turn to ecology to provide answers to questions, but it is the natural history that grounds these answers in the specifics of place and time. We are involved in a number of efforts to promote the value, improve the practice, grow the community and increase the application of natural history. Three recent projects include the Natural Histories Project, the Natural History Network, and the Natural History Initiative. We also established a new Natural History section at the Ecology Society of America.