The Importance of Natural History
Ecologists deploy the same tools of scientific inquiry that other scientists use – observation, questioning, inductive and deductive logic, comparison, and experimentation. However, the idiosyncrasy and complexity of ecological systems present special challenges that make certain tools particularly important. One of these important tools is natural history.
Natural history has multiple meanings. It can be thought of as an action – the observation of nature outside of a formal, hypothesis-testing investigation. Alternatively, it can be thought of as the body of reliable facts about the many components of an ecological system, their interactions, and the environmental context of those interactions. Natural history facts can result from systematic or anecdotal natural history observation, or from results of experiments.
Natural history is fundamental to virtually all stages of ecological inquiry. Often natural history observations provide the source of new questions and natural history knowledge is critical for the formulation of hypotheses as well as for the design of robust scientific studies to test them.