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Ecological careers at Federally Funded Research and Development Centers

Scientific breakthroughs at Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) can lead to changes in policy and affect funding priorities for ecological research. For example, while the scientific hypothesis underlying the relationship between land‐use change (LUC) and climate change had been long established (Revelle and Suess 1957), for decades there was great uncertainty about how current deforestation influenced atmospheric CO2 and thus climate change. It took a dedicated team of ecologists, historians, foresters, geographers, and economists to document how current effects of LUC alter atmospheric CO2 concentration by about 10% rather than the high estimate of 50% (Post et al. 1990; Dale et al. 1991). This team, led by an FFRDC, showed that since the early 1900s fossil‐fuel combustion has been the major contributor to the annual flux of carbon to the atmosphere. The good news is that this work influenced policy makers to focus on the burning of fossil fuels as the main contributor to climate change. The bad news is that it also decreased funding for research on LUC since its effect on climate change was found to be relatively small.

Testing such complex scientific hypotheses is a key emphasis of FFRDCs. These institutions provide an engaging career opportunity for scientists interested in a career spanning both basic and applied ecology and that involves investigating subject matter with environmental policy implications. If you want to apply your expertise in a group setting to address the most challenging scientific issues of the day, FFRDCs are the place for you.

To read the rest of this article in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, please click here.