Tosa, Marie I.; Dziedzic, Emily H.; Appel, Cara L.; Urbina, Jenny; Massey, Aimee; Ruprecht, Joel; Eriksson, Charlotte E.; Dolliver, Jane E.; Lesmeister, Damon B.; Betts, Matthew G.; Peres, Carlos A.; Levi, Taal. 2021. The Rapid Rise of Next-Generation Natural History. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. 9: 698131. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fevo.2021.698131
Many ecologists have lamented the demise of natural history and have attributed this decline to a misguided view that natural history is outdated and unscientific. Although there is a perception that the focus in ecology and conservation have shifted away from descriptive natural history research and training toward hypothetico-deductive research, we argue that natural history has entered a new phase that we call “next-generation natural history.” This renaissance of natural history is characterized by technological and statistical advances that aid in collecting detailed observations systematically over broad spatial and temporal extents. The technological advances that have increased exponentially in the last decade include electronic sensors such as camera-traps and acoustic recorders, aircraft- and satellite-based remote sensing, animal-borne biologgers, genetics and genomics methods, and community science programs. Advances in statistics and computation have aided in analyzing a growing quantity of observations to reveal patterns in nature. These robust next-generation natural history datasets have transformed the anecdotal perception of natural history observations into systematically collected observations that collectively constitute the foundation for hypothetico-deductive research and can be leveraged and applied to conservation and management. These advances are encouraging scientists to conduct and embrace detailed descriptions of nature that remain a critically important component of the scientific endeavor. Finally, these next-generation natural history observations are engaging scientists and non-scientists alike with new documentations of the wonders of nature. Thus, we celebrate next-generation natural history for encouraging people to experience nature directly.