It is time to produce an ecology with the face of Brazil – basic science

by Pedro Lira

As a reference in the region, Mercedes Bustamante relies on new ways of thinking about Brazilian natural systems


“You can work with plants, bacteria, animals, but in the end you work with people.” This holistic vision moved Mercedes Bustamante to ecosystem ecology, an area in which she studies the effects of humans and how we change the relationships between living things and the environment. The researcher and professor at the University of Brasília, a reference in this field for almost 30 years, defends: it is time to create a theoretical body of our own in ecology.

After all, we are the country with the greatest biodiversity in the world and, despite the international recognition of the life sciences produced here, we still have a lot to grow in ecology. With international experience in scientific and educational management at the UN, Bustamante is committed to changes in Brazilian science. “We have been testing for years how theories generated abroad for moderate climate systems can be transferred to tropical systems,” he says. In their opinion, the qualitative leap in Brazilian research will come when we begin to generate a wealth of theoretical ideas derived from understanding our own systems.

“We are in a tropical belt. That means the research being done here has great potential to replicate in Africa and Asia, ”he explains. “Brazil has the scientific and technical capacities for this, as well as the necessary experience in environmental monitoring.”

Bustamante’s bet is based on the evolution of the country’s ecological studies. As a member of Capes’ Biodiversity Committee in the 2000s, she explains that more traditional postgraduate programs focusing on field research have begun to expand into theoretical disciplines. “The transformation of natural systems and human activities are the main driving forces behind this development. Studying biology began to talk to other areas of knowledge, ”he says.

The logic is simple. If the problem goes through not only biological but also social and economic aspects, the solution must go through them as well.

But how can you combine the humanities, exact and natural sciences? The answer lies in interdisciplinarity. The last two decades have been shaped by research into tools that can combine field information with theoretical aspects. Math, computers, modeling, and other areas of information enable us to deal with the vast amount of biological and social data that has been collected. One example of this is the development of remote sensing methods: a survey that required years of field research has been shortened to days based on satellite data.

“What worries experts at the moment is that we are seeing this expansion of ecology at a time of financial crisis. We are facing a serious governance problem that has weakened civil society and the academic sector. ”The expert recalls that Brazil played a central role in the negotiations on climate change, but the new government influenced that direction.

“We have a lot of data and tools to work with. On this basis, how do we think about new concepts for climate change and environmental impacts? The current challenge is to involve the academic community in this topic. ”More than what the researchers wanted, however, the ecologist emphasizes the need for space in institutions and assessment systems. “The moment is to structure a theoretical body.”

He always advises students to open up to new opportunities. “The limits of ecology are in the ecologist’s mind. You don’t have to be an expert in everything, but you have to be able to communicate in this dialogue and to manage a minimum of tools. ”This is why the researcher also believes in the training of scientists in the humanities. “The dialogue with the social sciences is important and will also be indispensable in the future.”

In nature, Bustamante reminds us that no organism exists in absolute isolation and transfers this understanding to human relationships in its own area. “I think that also applies to our career. The way we interact and connect is able to integrate people into our work. We just need to grow as we make these connections. It’s not easy, but it’s enriching. “


Pedro Lira is a journalist and social media at Instituto Serrapilheira.

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