Is fieldwork essential?

Methods Blog

final 1 By Pat Backwell
Associate Editor, Methods in Ecology and Evolution

Is it necessary to study animals in their natural environment? It is often hot, uncomfortable, tiring, and rainy. You come home with mosquito bites, sore feet and sunburn. Can’t you just collect the animals and study them in the laboratory?

Those of us who spend long periods in the field, watching real animals doing real things, swear by fieldwork. We claim it is an essential part of understanding nature. It is how we come up with our research questions; it is why we have such a thorough understanding of our species; it’s why we can discover new areas of investigation. For many of us, it is also why we stay sane: we get away from university administration, rules and obligations.

There is often discussion about how biology has become a laboratory science. With all the new advances in technology, there…

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