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 ES Home > Vol. 5, No. 2 > Art. 23

Copyright © 2001 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance.

The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Holling, C. S. 2001. A new phase. Conservation Ecology 5(2): 23. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol5/iss2/art23/


A New Phase

C.S. Holling

University of Florida

Published: December 31, 2001

Off we go into a new phase for Conservation Ecology. It is now December 2001, my last month as Founding Editor-in-Chief of the journal. That is after six years of inventing a scientific journal on the Internet with a set of colleagues who enjoy mutual discovery and the hard work and fun that discovery should be. Now there will be two new Editors-in-Chief sharing the goals and blending their separate strengths. One is Carl Folke, director of an integrative center of ecological and social studies at the Stockholm University. The other is Lance Gunderson, head of a similar department at Emory University. Both have been part of the creative core of the efforts over this last six years. Both are now leading new and remarkable integrative centers of research and teaching. They are the leading edge of the science and practice that is becoming the foundation needed to investigate, understand, and design worlds that nurture and expand the healthy connections between people and nature.

Six years ago the future was excitingly unpredictable. First, it was exciting that the Internet seemed to be transforming relationships among people across national borders. Second, experiences of international environmental and ecological science had grown a style of science that was more integrative, cooperative, and global. Research on climate change, biodiversity losses, and landscape provided the grist for learning of surprising interactions among physical, biological, environmental, and ecological processes at scales from centimeters to the planet, over days to millennia. Collaborative enquiry and debate became enriched. International policies and politics became engaged.

Six years ago these very novel potentials provided by the Internet and by international science made it possible to imagine that we might create for Conservation Ecology anything from a simple, inexpensive journal to an international institute-without-walls. For me, the overall goal was something like the institute: inexpensive, controlled loosely by its members, simple in design, and uniquely effective because of that. It would be not simply a journal to communicate science, but a device to launch, support, and nurture integrative science and practice and to debate its significance internationally.

But the start had to be much more traditional, with priority placed on adaptive experiments to test the possibilities. Maybe it could grow into something oddly useful: an institute created by a journal, rather than the reverse! And that is what happened and is happening.

We chose to start it as a very traditional journal designed to publish peer-reviewed science and application dealing with understanding the foundations for sustainable futures; interdisciplinary and integrative. It could be remarkably inexpensive because the new Internet and the World Wide Web could be combined with the long traditions of volunteer science and a distinguished Editorial Board. Could we avoid the smothering limitations of traditional commercial scientific publication? Could we provide quality published information to a much more diverse community internationally?

Science had become narrowed by publishing traditions, by beauraucracy, by traditions of granting agencies, and by politics. Not really useful fun any more. Lots of bricks but not much architecture to develop an understanding of interrelationships. Good biology, good physics, good economics, good social science, but not sufficient integrative science and integrative experience.

So at the same time that Conservation Ecology was being developed, we also launched a research activity to see how far we could go in developing integrative understanding. It was the Resilience Project that involved economists, ecologists, social scientists, and mathematicians from several countries. The MacArthur Foundation, under the aegis of Dan Martin, supported the dozens of workshops, investigations, and publications, acting as it has so often in its role of encouraging novelty as no one else would. The project involved distinguished people who enjoyed the process of mutual discovery as their knowledge of one field encountered similar and different knowledge from other fields. The results have appeared in about 150 papers published in various journals and are now appearing in four books (www.resalliance.org/reports/macarthur_report.pdf). Three of those books will speak to specific fields: economics (edited by Perrings and Maler), ecosystem ecology (edited by Gunderson), and regional socio-ecological development (edited by Folke and Berkes). The fourth book is integrative and has just been published (Gunderson and Holling 2001). Its conclusions are also summarized in a paper in Ecosystems (Holling 2001).

I loved the whole effort! The puzzles that I had accumulated over the years became resolved. And the fewer, but deeper and more intriguing, paradoxes that I had accumulated turned out to provide the foundation for a new understanding of sustainability. It became clear why and how persistence and extinction, growth and constancy, evolution and collapse entwined to form a panarchy across scales. Hierarchy and adaptive cycles can combine to make healthy systems that can invent and experiment, benefiting from inventions that create opportunity while being kept safe from those that destabilize because of their nature or excessive exuberance. When innovation occurs, we can sense its fate. When collapse looms, we can judge its likelihood. And the timing and kind of responses can be designed as an act of strategic decision. Sustainability both conserves and creates. So does biological evolution (Gunderson and Holling 2001). Good stuff to retire on!

With that experience, two years ago we combined the two experiments -Conservation Ecology and the Resilience Project- into a sustaining, international institute-without-walls. Fifteen groups in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America are providing the funding, in modest annual dues, to establish the Resilience Alliance. It publishes Conservation Ecology now, together with the Ecological Society of America. That is why the journal is free for the more than 11,000 subscribers in over 108 nations.

Brian Walker, as Director of the Alliance and its research, has enthusiastically and effectively taken the challenge to move the theoretical developments into tests in regional settings (www.resalliance.org). Theoretical integrative science and economics blossom with the direction of Steve Carpenter and Buzz Brock. Adaptive Management flourishes under the inventive and provoking guidance of Carl Walters. Links with the Millennium Assessment and socio-ecological innovation grow under the guidance of Carl Folke. Lance Gunderson and Garry Peterson test the educational results on the Web in a series of international courses. The critical lectures will grow and evolve in Conservation Ecology as a web-based program on advanced topics in sustainability theory and practice. Jon Norbert, as Associate Editor, is starting that in the next issue. Different people, innovative people in different nations collaborating with a shared vision for an international program of integrative research, communication, and education. That is also good stuff to retire on!

This present issue of Conservation Ecology brings that entire rich discovery into a new phase. It got its first chance six years ago when Karen Holbrooke, then Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of Florida, offered $30,000 to start. Since that time, we have increased those funds over one hundred times as foundations and individuals perceived the progress and saw the relevance. It provides a base that makes the contribution of the founding group a major achievement: of Shealagh Pope, Lenore Fahrig, Phil Taylor, Lee Miller, Margaret Shepard, Sam Scheiner, Geoff Henebry, and now of Allyson Quinlan, and Michelle Lee. Our programmer, John Brzustowski, controls and develops the expanding software that handles the secretarial features of the peer review process. When the new media of the Internet opens possibilities of nontraditional solutions, John is the one who provides impeccable judgments. That is what happened when we established the policy to turn all copyrights of papers over to the authors. Why should a journal now claim ownership of things it did not create, just helped to publish?

The new Editors-in-Chief and the people working with them will launch new and wonderful experiments. We encourage readers to suggest and launch such efforts themselves, with Conservation Ecology's help where feasible.

The present issue ends this phase in such a fine way. It is the longest issue to date. There are two Special Features. One relates the experiences of people working in association with CGIAR, the set of international laboratories concerned with agricultural development. Those laboratories were launched back when the Rice Research Institute initiated the Green Revolution. World Bank and the Rockefeller Foundation have been major supporters. Now there are new opportunities for innovation in agricultural production that need the insights and knowledge of the poor and not those of rich, industrial agriculture. Some of those are suggested in an earlier Special Feature on the Promises and Risks of Genetically Modified Crops (Conservation Ecology 4(1). [Online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol4/iss1).

A transformation is also occurring that adds the larger scales of integrated resource development to the more traditional emphasis on agriculture production. That is what the Special Feature on Integrated Natural Resource Management does. Jeffrey Sayer and Bruce Campbell have mobilized the active people in the field to discuss their discoveries and challenges. It is another example, like Conservation Ecology, the Resilience Alliance, and the Millennium Ecosystem Program, in which new directions open where interactions among people, science, and policy become as important as production alone.

The other Special Feature in this issue is a jewel that has long intrigued me. Lee Gass has been the innovator and creator of this Special Feature on Interactive Education. His history leading to the content of this special feature soon will be recognized by his selection as one of two University Professors of the Year by the Council on Advancement of Post Secondary Education in the United States and Canada. Lee is one of those people who cannot separate research, discovery, communication, teaching, and learning. All are the same to him. And all are enriched because he structures them together, with rich and wonderful conversations and revelations along the way. He and his colleagues present his discoveries in this Special Feature.

I had even hoped that we would have a third Special Feature, of fundamental research showing how the web can be used to make the complex simple. But that will have to wait for the next issue. The Feature includes eight papers selected for the Ralf Yorque Memorial Prize Competition. One year ago we advertised that awards of $3,000 for first place and $2,000 for second place, would go to the authors of effective papers that employ the unique advantages of electronic publishing to communicate, simply and elegantly, a specific example of complex science or complex policy to a broad audience.

We wanted to see our authors offer elegant science and novel ideas for making the complex simple on the web. We wanted help from researchers and practitioners who would like to push the limits of how scholarly research is communicated and conducted. We already do have modest examples of on-line surveys that compile results on the fly, of downloadable models, of web-enabled dialogues among young scholars, of ongoing reader dialogues responding to specific papers, of GIS data sets, and of the liberal use of color graphics. But we wanted our subscribers to be part of a bolder effort to invent and test new approaches. These papers are close to final revision and eight will appear in the next issue. Watch for them. The science is fascinating, as are the modes of communications .

My comments on these Special Features are a fine way for me to end these six years of exploration of the Internet, of integrative science, learning, and communication. I am indebted to all who have helped because they are part of the discoveries we have made. Preeminently Ilse Holling was one of those. She experienced and shared the total discoveries I describe, but also the barriers and blocks whose removal led us to this point. They have created a new opportunity for understanding.


Responses to this article are invited. If accepted for publication, your response will be hyperlinked to the article. To submit a comment, follow this link. To read comments already accepted, follow this link.


Gunderson, L., and C. S. Holling. 2001. Panarchy; understanding transformations in systems of humans and nature. Island Press, Washington, D.C., USA.

Holling, C. S. 2001. Understanding the complexity of economic, ecological and social systems. Ecosystems 4:390-405.

Address of Correspondent:
C.S. Holling
Department of Zoology
University of Florida
223 Bartram Hall
Gainesville, Florida 32611-2009 USA
Phone: (352) 543-6955
Fax: (352) 392-3704

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