Posted by: cjlortie | March 20, 2012

What is novel synthesis in ecology?

I like the idea of novel synthesis but have been trying to deconstruct what it means. I have spent some time at NCEAS and really enjoyed seeing synthesis in action. Synthesis, ecologically, appears to be bringing together datasets from different places. However, synthesis in ecology does not necessarily appear to be the combination of various entities to generate something new per se.  For instance, we might all have datasets on diversity in backyards. We meet and then combine them. We now have an estimate for the diversity of species at a larger scale, i.e. the city, region, etc. but is this really new? Perhaps this where the ‘novel’ synthesis part comes in for Oikos.  The goal is to bring together elements, data, ideas, and maybe people now too under the new Oikos Forum model to produce dialectics, experiments, and insights that otherwise could be obscured from too narrow a focus.

Are there other models of synthesis for ecology though in addition to the combination of same or different data streams from different places or taxa? What other mechanisms could we use to promote novel synthesis in ecology and evolution, particularly as they relate to important conservation issues?

Discussion, collaboration, and networks are ideal approaches. Journals have the capacity to promote syntheses along these lines. One mechanism would be special issues of Oikos bringing together individuals on a specific topic to evaluate and examine linkages within and between specific fields. Bringing together fundamental ecologists and applied ecologists to imagine and describe connections speaks to a post by Jeremy on the value of fundamental ecology. Journals sometimes publish special issues and often organize special symposiums. I would like to see Oikos do more of this and for us to find other channels to promote these linkages (the blog, editorials, advertisements or calls for sets of papers, etc.). Let’s see if we can expand the actualization of novel synthesis for ecology and evolution.


  1. Can’t believe you didn’t link back to my post on this!

  2. Super thanks Jeremy. Sorry, I knew I had read it somewhere!!

  3. DO you know of a mechanism to track information from various online streams such as blogs and tweets, etc? With papers, I read them, take some notes and then pop into endnote. This tells me brain, it is there if you need it. How do you handle all this additional information from other sources?

    • “How do you handle all this additional information from other sources?”

      I have an enormous brain. 😉

      I don’t even use Endnote for papers.

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