Natural History: the sense of wonder, creativity and progress in ecology


  • Paul K. Dayton Scripps Institution of Oceanography
  • Enric Sala Scripps Institution of Oceanography



natural history, ecology, scientific progress, traditional knowledge, authority, understanding of nature


This essay addresses the question of blending natural history and ecological wisdom into the genuine creativity exemplified by Prof. Ramon Margalef. Many have observed that modern biology is a triumph of precision over accuracy, and that ecology has sought maturity by striving toward this model in which the precision value of the tools has supplanted important questions. In pursuing a model of hard science, ecology has struggled with Popperian approaches designed to create a thin patina of real science over the vast seas of uncertainty so admired by the naturalists. We start with a discussion of the importance of natural history in ecology and conservation, and the present state of natural history in academic ecology. We then discuss the respect for natural history in human cultures, and conclude that an infatuation with authority has obfuscated the important truths to be found in nature. We consider some general processes associated with creativity, and finally we ask how natural history influences creativity in ecology. We conclude that the soaring creativity exemplified by Ramon Margalef is based on a joyful almost spiritual understanding of natural history and the courage to avoid authority.


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How to Cite

Dayton PK, Sala E. Natural History: the sense of wonder, creativity and progress in ecology. scimar [Internet]. 2001Dec.30 [cited 2023May31];65(S2):199-206. Available from:




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