Meeting Description: Ecological research today cannot escape humans. We are modifying natural environments all over the world, both directly through deforestation and overfishing, and indirectly through pollution and climate warming. Understanding the consequences of these changes for plant and animal communities and the ecosystem services they provide us, such as insect pollination and pest control, requires new analytical tools that leverage different types of information—animal diet records, satellite land-use images, weather measurements—to make testable predictions. A network can describe intricate relationships among species, people, institutions, and technologies in a single mathematical formalism, and advances in network theory has the potential to help solve pressing environmental change problems, and answer fundamental questions in ecology.
The goal of this working group is to identify new data and modelling opportunities for ecological networks, and applying research methods and outputs to decision-making. Following the inaugural meeting at the Santa Fe Institute, further workshops are planned at universities and research centers across the United States. Beyond ecological networks, lessons from tightly integrating theoretical and empirical work, combined with special attention to actionable science, will inform networks research more generally, potentially transforming investigations of other rapidly changing complex systems.