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Journal Article

Evolution of interdisciplinarity in biodiversity science


Wirth,  Christian
Interdepartmental Max Planck Fellow Group Functional Biogeography, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Craven, D., Winter, M., Hotzel, K., Gaikwad, J., Eisenhauer, N., Hohmuth, M., et al. (2019). Evolution of interdisciplinarity in biodiversity science. Ecology and Evolution, 9(12), 6744-6755. doi:10.1002/ece3.5244.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-877B-A
The study of biodiversity has grown exponentially in the last thirty years in response
to demands for greater understanding of the function and importance of Earth's biodiversity
and finding solutions to conserve it. Here, we test the hypothesis that biodiversity
science has become more interdisciplinary over time. To do so, we analyze
97,945 peer‐reviewed articles over a twenty‐two‐year time period (1990–2012) with
a continuous time dynamic model, which classifies articles into concepts (i.e., topics
and ideas) based on word co‐occurrences. Using the model output, we then quantify
different aspects of interdisciplinarity: concept diversity, that is, the diversity of
topics and ideas across subdisciplines in biodiversity science, subdiscipline diversity,
that is, the diversity of subdisciplines across concepts, and network structure, which
captures interactions between concepts and subdisciplines. We found that, on average,
concept and subdiscipline diversity in biodiversity science were either stable
or declining, patterns which were driven by the persistence of rare concepts and
subdisciplines and a decline in the diversity of common concepts and subdisciplines,
respectively. Moreover, our results provide evidence that conceptual homogenization,
that is, decreases in temporal β concept diversity, underlies the observed trends
in interdisciplinarity. Together, our results reveal that biodiversity science is undergoing
a dynamic phase as a scientific discipline that is consolidating around a core set of
concepts. Our results suggest that progress toward addressing the biodiversity crisis
via greater interdisciplinarity during the study period may have been slowed by extrinsic
factors, such as the failure to invest in research spanning across concepts and
disciplines. However, recent initiatives such as the Intergovernmental Science‐Policy
Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) may attract broader support
for biodiversity‐related issues and hence interdisciplinary approaches to address
scientific, political, and societal challenges in the coming years.