Over time, word of mouth spread and volunteers came from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, China, England and other locales, and they still aren't done.
"People were calling us and saying, 'Can we be part of this? Can I get in on this?' It has been very exciting to the see the interest," said Harpole.
As with anything new, a plan was needed. As research started, the original group of six had to decide how to make this work.
"We had to decide how we can make the buy-in as cheap and easy as possible. We found a way to set up sites for as little as $200 each," said Harpole. "And it was important to keep costs down, especially in places where they don't have the resources to do research on a large scale."
The entire group includes more than 100 researchers spread around the globe, so many that Harpole hasn't even met them all, except through the Internet.
"We have just two ground rules, and they are really simple," said Harpole. "Basically they are kindergarten rules. 'Do you play well with others?' In other words, 'Are you a good colleague? And will you follow the protocol and share the data appropriately?'
"In return for that, they'll have the chance to be included as authors on these big-question papers, like the one we got in Science, and also on more specialized papers that we've gotten into other journals."
Harpole notes that the Internet is the reason this sort of research is now possible. With such easy access to colleagues, data and results, it is as easy to work with an ecologist in South America as it is in the next office.
The new research seems to have filled a niche.
Harpole thinks their method may not work for all research, but it may be a model for other disciplines.
"It may not be s
|Contact: Stanley Harpole|
Iowa State University