Appendix A. Questionnaire that was e-mailed to 113 experienced field ecologists.
Dear [fill in name],
In the early 1990s the sea otter populations that I had been studying for more than 20 years in the Aleutian Islands very suddenly collapsed. This event was entirely unanticipated, the result (I believe) of a change in interaction web dynamics that was at the time simply beyond my mindset of how the system worked.
This experience is not unique. The well-known small mammal competition experiments by Brown and Heske that resulted in an unanticipated shrub to grassland transition more than 10 years later is one example. The report by Barkai and McQuaid of a failed reintroduction of rock lobsters in South Africa due to a predator-prey role reversal is another. The hallmarks of these “ecological surprises” are dramatic and unexpected changes in populations, communities or ecosystems, brought about by previously unknown or unanticipated interaction web processes.
As part of an NCEAS (National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis) working group on marine ecosystem-based management, we have become interested in these “ecological surprises”, especially the extent to which other field ecologists have encountered them over the course of their careers. We have selected names of people to query in two ways—by members of our working group listing every ecologist they could think of who has conducted long-term field studies; and by querying the web of science database for publications with the key words “long term” and “ecology”. Your name surfaced through this process.
We hope you will be willing to take the 25 additional seconds (determined from a self-administered test) to answer two simple questions:
If you care to take the additional time to briefly explain your experience or identify where the findings were published, we would be most interested and grateful. This, however, is not necessary. Also, if you have encountered what you feel were surprises that didn’t meet the definition above, we would be very interested in having your explanation of them.
Thank you very much for your time.
(for the working group)