Support for natural history the study of organisms, how and where they live and how they interact with their environment appears to be in steep decline in developed countries, according to Joshua Tewksbury, a University of Washington professor and WWF International scientist.
"Yet natural history provides essential knowledge for fields as varied as human health, food security, conservation, land management and recreation," he said.
Tewksbury and 16 other scientists from across North America outline the importance to society and call for a revitalization of the practice of natural history in an article in the April issue of BioScience.
Natural history is generally more concerned with observations and collections than with experimentation. It's thought narrowly as the purview of scientists bottling up specimens or pressing plants meant for museums. But natural history is really about looking at organisms so closely that one learns their habits and how they fit with what's around them. The approach works for understanding animals, plants and other organisms outdoors as well as at the microbial level in, for example, our bodies.
Among examples in the paper, the co-authors point out that effective fisheries management relies on natural history and that disasters such as the collapse of the Bering Sea walleye pollock fishery might have been avoided had natural history been used sooner. Many infectious diseases of humans including avian influenza, Lyme disease, cholera and rabies are linked at some point in their life cycles to other animals. Indeed 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases are associated with animals. Control strategies rely on knowing these hosts' natural history.
Increasingly sophisticated biological models still need observations from the real world, the authors point out.
"Despite the importance of detailed natural history information to many sectors of society, exposure and training in traditional forms of n
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University of Washington