Let’s Get Together: How Invasion Ecology and Biological Control Can Improve Collaboration
By Melissa Mayer
When you think about it, invasion ecology and biological control are two sides of the same coin. One field studies the mechanisms that drive the movement of non-native or invasive species into new habitats and the effects of that invasion on local resources. The other uses intentional, controlled introductions of non-native species as a pest management technique.
In a literature review published in January in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America, researchers from Arkansas State University’s Department of Biological Sciences and the USDA Forest Service’s Southern Research Station evaluated how well invasion ecologists and biocontrol practitioners communicate with each other.
A Big Project
The project grew out of a course assignment for one of the authors, Ashely Schulz, Ph.D., during her first year of doctoral work at Arkansas State University. (Schulz is now a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management at Colorado State University.) It began with just 33 papers and expanded over the years to encompass 192 papers (102 on invasion ecology and 90 on biological control).
Schulz meticulously categorized the papers’ 11,657 citations. “It took a few hundred hours all together and was certainly one of the most challenging parts of the review,” she notes. “Many citations could not be naturally placed in one category, so I often had to read through the articles, find all uses of the citation, and categorize the citation based on how it was utilized by the primary paper.”
To accomplish that massive task, Schulz color-coded each citation using the Adobe highlighting tool or manual highlighters, assigning them to the following categories: biological control (green), invasion ecology (orange), other control (blue), other ecology (yellow), and non-ecology (pink). She then counted the citations by category, tracking the numbers in a comprehensive spreadsheet, and ran statistical analyses on the raw data.
A Bigger Opportunity
The literature review showed that invasion ecologists mostly cite invasion ecology and other ecology papers, while biocontrol practitioners cite biological control, invasion ecology, and other ecology papers. The authors also looked at the journals cited by the papers and found a 65 to 70 percent citation overlap between the fields.
Taken together, this data reveals that there is some cross-communication between the fields—but it tends to go one way, with biological control practitioners making use of invasion ecology literature but not vice versa. The authors say this highlights an opportunity for invasion ecologists to diversify the research they read and cite and build stronger linkages between the fields.
The authors point out that biocontrol programs generate data that could be a boon for invasion ecologists who want to test hypotheses and study topics like microevolution and predator functional response. So far, few published studies have taken advantage of those datasets.
Schulz thinks conferences could forge the way for better communication and collaboration by providing opportunities for the fields to come together. “Sessions where invasion ecologists and biological control practitioners can connect, brainstorm together, build future collaborative research projects, develop ideas for how to test hypotheses in invasion ecology using biological control agents, and/or identify grants and other resources that could be shared would help get the creative and collaborative juices flowing,” she explains. “Having sessions dedicated to developing and enhancing collaborative efforts is an easy way to get the ball rolling.”
Open-access publishing could also help. Invasion ecologists may not even know biocontrol data exists if it’s hidden behind paywalls or not publicly available. Bringing it into the open increases opportunities for researchers to access each other’s data and work together. Of course, that will only work if the costs aren’t barriers to scientists who may have to choose between funding open access and funding research.
“My coauthors and I are not the first to call for improved communication between the fields, and we likely won’t be the last, but hopefully we can instigate some movement towards increased communication and collaboration going into the future,” Schulz says.
Annals of the Entomological Society of America
Melissa Mayer is a freelance science writer based in Portland, Oregon. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.