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5 February 2010 BRIDGES: evolution of basic and applied linkages in benthic science
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Abstract

Growing awareness of environmental degradation resulted in stricter environmental regulations and laws for aquatic ecosystems. These regulations were followed by an increase in applied research and monitoring beginning in the early 1970s. The number of applied scientists who were members of the North American Benthological Society grew at a commensurate rate. The editors of J-NABS recognized that, despite these increases, submitted manuscripts mostly addressed basic science. In response, the BRIDGES section of J-NABS was created in 1994 to provide a forum for linking basic ecological principles to applied science problems and issues. We examined the emergence of applied science topics in J-NABS and its predecessor, Freshwater Invertebrate Biology, from their beginning in 1982 to 2009. We classified papers among 11 categories that included a basic/applied science linkage. In the 1980s, applied papers were predominantly on effects of eutrophication/pollution and landuse changes. When BRIDGES was established in 1994, papers were solicited by editors and BRIDGES sections usually included >1 paper on a common theme to express complementary or alternate viewpoints. Forty-two papers appeared in BRIDGES between 1994 and 2009, but the number per issue declined after 2001. The total number of applied science papers in J-NABS has increased since ∼1994. Citation analysis of BRIDGES papers illustrates how information is being cited, but applied papers often are used in ways that might not lead to citations. BRIDGES transitioned to a new format in September 2009 to address new types of complex, multifaceted linkages. All new BRIDGES articles will be open access, and authors will be encouraged to produce lay-language fact sheets and to post them on the web.

Growing awareness of the importance of the health of our planet's freshwater and marine ecosystems has led to an increase in applied research over the past several decades. This shift in research focus has produced an increase in science that highlights the challenges to ecosystems and helps guide protection and restoration efforts. The emergence of threats to aquatic ecosystems was gradual or out of the public eye until pollution and degraded water quality became noticeable. Public perception of these problems increased sharply when the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969 (Fig. 1). The river had burned several times before 1969, sometimes with even greater damage than in 1969, but this fire became the subject of an editorial in a US national news magazine, which included the description, “it oozes rather than flows” (Time 1969). This event and increased environmental awareness of US citizens led to the first Earth Day celebration in Washington, DC, in 1970 (Fig. 1), the transformation of the Water Pollution Control Federation into the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 (Fig. 1), and enactment of much more stringent water quality protection legislation in 1972 (US Clean Water Act; US Senate Public Works Committee 1972; Fig. 1).

Growing environmental awareness coupled with more stringent environmental regulations and laws was accompanied by an increase in research and monitoring directed to applied topics. Funding entities probably shifted their priorities to more applied topics at the same time. Scientific publications on applied subjects began to increase in the peer-reviewed literature from the 1970s through the 1980s, and scientific journals that targeted submissions in the applied sciences began to appear in the same time frame. Examples include Journal of Applied Ecology, Journal of Environmental Management, Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, and Ecological Applications. The emergence of the applied sciences probably was related to increases in government funding for monitoring and assessment of surface water ecological condition. Public and private funding sources for applied science have increased since the 1970s, but this increase is difficult to quantify and document. A good indicator of this shift is the evolution of the structure and curricula of many academic institutions toward greater emphasis in departments and degree programs on interdisciplinary and applied science components, particularly environmental policy. Shifts in public attitudes and government policy spurred the National Research Council (1992) to highlight the increased need for broadly trained, interdisciplinary scientists to assist with resource management and restoration. Aumen and Havens (19975) called for a new cadre of applied scientists and recommended that university departments and faculty foster academic environments that encourage research and student enrollment in the applied sciences.

Natural resource policy and management require application of science-based decision making. Scientific approaches needed for this type of ecosystem-level understanding include a balance of observational and monitoring studies; hypothesis-driven experimental research; and physical, chemical, and ecological modeling (Havens and Aumen 2000). Observational and monitoring studies, especially with long-term, historical data, are important for assessing ecosystem patterns, trends, and changes (e.g., the National Science Foundation's Long-Term Ecological Studies network,  http://www.lternet.edu/). Hypothesis-driven experimental research is required to determine cause-and-effect relationships via use of proper experimental design. Modeling can be used as a predictive tool, to understand data needs to improve model performance, and to gauge our understanding of environmental processes. Use of these 3 approaches in combination results in better understanding of ecosystems, their responses to stress, and how to protect and restore them from degraded states t