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Researchers Identify Hotspots for Ecological Research

March 8, 2011 — Rarely do undergraduate students have the opportunity to see their work published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Rarer still is when an undergraduate's work is selected for a major publication, much less being selected as the cover article. But two University of Wyoming students contributed to an article that was selected for the cover of the journal, Ecosphere.

John Pokallus of Gillette, a recent graduate with a degree in wildlife and fisheries biology and management, was the lead author of the article, "The Landscape of Ecology," published in Ecosphere's February issue.

Zoology major Grant Campbell of Laramie also contributed to the article while an undergraduate student. The other cited authors were graduate students Ben Koch of Laramie, who is still a Ph.D. student in zoology and ecology, and Jon Pauli of Madison, Wis., who is now an assistant professor in the Department of Forest & Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin.

The scientists recognized that the spatial patterns of ecological research within the United States have never been measured, even through significant aspects of the scientific process, including innovation and the exchange of ideas, can be influenced by the geographic distribution of scientists and resources.

By using an approach similar to that used to map global biodiversity hotspots, the researchers quantified ecological research activity across the United States. This was accomplished by assigning members of Ecological Society of America, recipients of National Science Foundation grants, and authors of publications in leading ecological journals to the ZIP code of their home institutions.

"Using these data we mapped the density of ecologists, and the magnitude of their inputs and outputs, and quantified an ‘ecological activity' index to measure the spatial intensity of ecological research within the United States," the article states. "We also examined spatial patterns of collaboration. Our quantification of ecological activity and subsequent cluster analysis revealed distinct centers, or hotspots, of ecological research."

Knowledge of such hotspots, the authors said, would not only highlight the most productive communities of ecologists, but help in identifying where especially fruitful research opportunities may exist.

University of Wyoming researchers generated this map of ecological research hotspots in the United States. The map was chosen for the cover of the cover of Ecosphere's February issue.

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