Distributed experiments to overcome pandemic lockdowns while promoting equity, diversity and global knowledge

Hargreaves, Anna | $237,970

Quebec McGill University 2021 SSHRC

Ecologists have made amazing strides toward understanding ecological communities using increasingly creative, well-designed experiments in nature. However, much of this understanding has been heavily biased toward temperate ecosystems, reflecting the high concentration of universities and research funding.

Temperate bias in ecology stands in the way of identifying general principles and predictive frameworks that apply across existing ecosystems and will translate to new ones. Accelerating climate change, species invasions, and wildlife exploitation are rapidly creating a world of novel species assemblages living in no-analogue climates. Ecological predictions for these new ecosystems will be impossible without a robust understanding of general ecological principles built on data from across latitudes.

A promising emerging approach to combat temperate bias is the distributed experiment, where a network of collaborators uses a consistent experimental protocol and combine their data into a unified analysis. Distributed experiments combine the power of field experiments with the generality of global syntheses, enabling data collection at an otherwise-impossible scale. They were also the only type of international field work possible during the travel restrictions of the global pandemic. However, there are limitations to the common model where one person designs and organizes the project, and others `volunteer’ their time, taking a few days out of normal fieldwork to participate in exchange for authorship: this model excludes some places without researchers and some researchers without funding, and is limited to very short and simple experiments.

This project’s objectives are to transform the distributed experiment approach above to:

– build a collaborative network of academic & nonacademic partners from the high arctic to Equator, to

– conduct in-depth standardized experiments testing fundamental principles in ecology and evolution, to

– combat temperate bias in ecological data and research, to

– generate a robust understanding of ecological patterns across latitudes

We focus on interactions between species-the threads that bind ecosystems together that are increasingly frayed by global change.

The potential reward is the type of detailed, large-scale data that can transform our understanding of ecology, and a much needed step toward equitable, global science driven collaboratively by diverse participants.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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