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Freshwater Ecosystems: Revitalizing Educational Programs in Limnology
Ecosystem-oriented programs are essential, but such instructional programs are rare owing to a number of synergistic factors.
Government support of faculty-student research programs in limnology is inadequate, given the value of freshwater resources and the crucial importance of basic and applied research and education to effective management of these resources (Lewis et al., 1995). The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the only significant agency that supports fundamental limnological research in academic institutions. With extremely severe competition for these limited funds, the probability of long-term support, which is required for ecosystem research, is low. Alternative funding sources without specific mission commitments are very few. The weak governmental support and budgetary anonymity of limnology have contributed to a decline in the independence and recognition of the discipline (Lewis et al., 1995). This support structure has also contributed to fragmentation of the discipline into specialized fields of inquiry and weakening of their interconnections. As a result, university researchers tend to conduct research in small, specialized areas in which specific results can be obtained relatively rapidly. Extreme competition for scarce resources also promotes isolation among faculty and researchers. Instruction by faculty tends to become specialized and insular, with minimal interdisciplinary collaboration.
In addition to the inadequate federal funding of limnological programs and the shift of fiscal responsibilities for higher education to state and internal sources, universities commonly encourage popular and relatively well-funded subdisciplines, such as molecular biology or medicine. A number of particularly strong research and instructional programs in aquatic ecology in major universities (Yale University, Indiana University, University of Washington, and others) have been terminated in the past decade. This decline is in sharp contrast to the marked increase in aquatic ecosystem programs in many other industrialized countries where the critical importance of research foundations to effective management of fresh waters is recognized. Strong instructional and research programs in limnology have emerged in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, where the research and instructional liaisons between universities and environmental agencies are particularly vigorous and there is recognition of the importance of understanding the quantitative dynamics of controlling factors for effective management and restoration of freshwater ecosystems.
In the United States, several alternatives have emerged by default. Limnology has often languished in departments of biological sciences, which are too narrowly based, while emerging in departments of fisheries and schools of natural resources, where stream ecology and wetlands are more relevant. Aquatic chemistry and environmental hydraulics programs related to lakes and rivers have developed in engineering departments