The next generation of action ecology: novel approaches towards global ecological research

Advances in the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge over the last decade have dramatically reshaped the way that ecological research is conducted. The advent of large, technology- based resources such as iNaturalist, Genbank, or the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) allow ecologists to work at spatio-temporal scales previously unimaginable. This has generated a new approach in ecological research: one that relies on large datasets and rapid synthesis for theory testing and development, and findings that provide specific recommendations to policymakers and managers. This new approach has been termed action ecology, and here we aim to expand on earlier definitions to delineate its characteristics so as to distinguish it from related subfields in applied ecology and ecological management. Our new, more nuanced definition describes action ecology as ecological research that is (1) explicitly motivated by the need for immediate insights into current, pressing problems, (2) collaborative and transdisciplinary, incorporating sociological in addition to ecological considerations throughout all steps of the research, (3) technology-mediated, innovative, and aggregative (i.e., reliant on ‘ big data’), and (4) designed and disseminated with the intention to inform policy and management. We provide tangible examples of existing work in the domain of action ecology, and offer suggestions for its implementation and future growth, with explicit recommendations for individuals, research institutions, and ecological societies.