Speaking across boundaries to explore the potential for interdisciplinarity in ecosystem services knowledge production

Schutter, M.S. and Hicks, C.C. (2021) Speaking across boundaries to explore the potential for interdisciplinarity in ecosystem services knowledge production. Conservation Biology, 35 (4). pp. 1198-1209. ISSN 0888-8892

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Conservation is likely to be most successful if it draws on knowledge from across the natural and social sciences. The ecosystem services concept has been called a boundary object in that it facilitates development of such interdisciplinary knowledge because it offers a common platform for researchers, policy makers, and practitioners. However, a question that remains is to what extent the interdisciplinary knowledge needed is provided by disciplinary diversity within the field. We asked where is knowledge on ecosystem services produced, how interdisciplinary is this knowledge, and which disciplines facilitate the greatest disciplinary integration? We defined interdisciplinarity as the extent to which published research draws on knowledge that crosses disciplinary borders and used citations as a quantitative indicator of communication among disciplines, based on journal classification. We used disciplinary diversity, richness, and heterocitation as measures of interdisciplinarity and betweenness centrality as a measure of disciplinary integration. Our data set contained 22,153 publications on ecosystem services, published from 1983 to 2018. We found that ecosystem services research matured; average yearly output growth was 33.8%, more than the 8–9% growth in scientific output across all fields. Over time, the network clustering coefficient, measuring connectedness of individual disciplines, rose from 0.388 to 0.727, suggesting increased density in the network of citations. Researchers in the field published more articles (3566 in 2018 alone) across more disciplines (77 unique disciplines in 2018). However, this growth was not mirrored by an increase in the diversity (stable at 0.7–0.9) or richness (averaging 0.35 unique disciplines per citation) of citation patterns. Heterocitation scores, or out-of-group citations, for arts, humanities, social sciences, and law ranged from 56% to 64%, which was lower than we expected, although this may serve to protect the integrity of social science disciplines and attract broader engagement from within. Ultimately, a small number of productive disciplines are central to supporting disciplinary integration. However, opportunities exist for conservation practice to draw on a broader field of research, to realize the potential that the diverse body of knowledge of interdisciplinary work offers.

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Journal Article
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Conservation Biology
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15 Feb 2021 10:25
Last Modified:
21 Sep 2023 03:03