Looking backwards to look forwards: the role of natural history in temperate reef ecology

Stephen J. Hawkins, Nova Mieszkowska, Louise B. Firth, Katrin Bohn, Michael T. Burrows, Moira A. MacLean, Richard C. Thompson, Benny K. K. Chan, Colin Little, Gray A. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Temperate reefs are superb tractable systems for testing hypotheses in ecology and evolutionary biology. Accordingly there is a rich history of research stretching back over 100 years, which has made major contributions to general ecological and evolutionary theory as well as providing better understanding of how littoral systems work by linking pattern with process. A brief resumé of the history of temperate reef ecology is provided to celebrate this rich heritage. As a community, temperate reef ecologists generally do well designed experiments and test well formulated hypotheses. Increasingly large datasets are being collected, collated and subjected to complex meta-analyses and used for modelling. These datasets do not happen spontaneously – the burgeoning subject of macroecology is possible only because of the efforts of dedicated natural historians whether it be observing birds, butterflies, or barnacles. High-quality natural history and old-fashioned field craft enable surveys or experiments to be stratified (i.e. replicates are replicates and not a random bit of rock) and lead to the generation of more insightful hypotheses. Modern molecular approaches have led to the discovery of cryptic species and provided phylogeographical insights, but natural history is still required to identify species in the field. We advocate a blend of modern approaches with old school skills and a fondness for temperate reefs in all their splendour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
JournalMarine and Freshwater Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Aug 2015


  • experiments
  • historical ecology


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