Commentary from the General Secretary / 2005

Commentary from the General Secretary / 2005

Evolve or Die: The Need for New Thrusts in SIL

Integration at many levels is key as the new age of biology develops in the present century. Understanding of genomics and cellular biology continues to accelerate. The genetic and physiological regulation of these metabolic and evolutionary processes must be coupled to our understanding of environmental dynamics in inland water ecosystems. Limnological understanding is essential to translate the genetic and cellular regulation into the real world conditions. It is also essential that limnologists effectively utilize the fundamentals of metabolic regulation in a realistic manner in interpreting observed population and community inter-relationships.

Limnology has experienced many stages of development as we have treaded the road to our present overall understanding of inland waters. Descriptive, correlational, and experimental approaches have all contributed enormously. We have experienced eras of intensive study in certain subdisciplines – for example, comparative nutrient dynamics, food-web structure and the importance of predatory interactions in influencing productivity and nutrient dynamics, and many others.

With the increasing demands for greater use of inland waters, there is a tendency to assume that we know enough to make informed decisions for reasoned management and use. I argue vigorously that such is not the case. Our understanding improves continuously on how these complex ecosystems function and are regulated. Recent examples include the recognition and quantification, finally after resolute resistance to the concept for over 30 years, of the importance of natural dissolved organic compounds in regulation of metabolism, the key role that natural sunlight photolysis of dissolved organic substances play in regulating microbial metabolism and nutrient cycling, and the effects of climate change parameters on hydrological, chemical, and metabolic properties and biodiversity of aquatic ecosystems.

SIL has long held a tradition of emphasizing scientific understanding. Its primary direction has been to foster exchange and enhance understanding of inland aquatic ecosystems. Interest in its wonderfully congenial congresses and associated scientific excursions is waning, giving way to more frequent, intensive hit-and-run meetings. The Proceedings (Verhandlungen) served a critical role in the exchange of information and ascended to the foremost cited limnological journal in the 1960s (Gorham 1968). Of course, as the other excellent limnological journals evolved, and the quantity and rate of publication shifted to exponential phases, the leadership of the Proceedings was supplanted by these new journals. In all of the roles that SIL plays in scientific meetings, fostering interdisciplinary activities and scientific exchange, and in formal publications, it is time for change and evolution to more proactive roles. Several new directions must be undertaken – coupling our understanding at multiple scales from the genomics to the drainage basin, enhancing our use of the powerful informatic systems to anneal all of the parts into an integrated ecosystem, development of vigorous specific topical exchange groups, development of an international journal of limnology that is more responsive and timely, and others.

Amidst all of these necessary changes, SIL must still maintain its unique position in international limnology. SIL has always affiliated with limnologists, theoretical and applied, in all countries of the world. There is now a great flurry of activity among many national limnological organizations to become ‘international’ – often only by holding an occasional meeting in a foreign country and encouraging foreign membership. These activities are not yet in the same vein of those of SIL that has made sincere and successful attempts to understand not only the enormous cultural, sociological, and economic differences between developing and developed countries, but to attempt to improve the limnological training and efficacy of research and management in developing countries.

President Likens and other officers have recognized the need for SIL to change. A Futures Committee has been appointed with the charge to evaluate where SIL is and to make poignant and difficult recommendations for change. Some problems may be addressed by simply involving more interested members in the activities of SIL, because the present-day SIL is much too large, and the workload too great, to be led by a few volunteer officers. We hope to present SIL membership with the evaluations of the Futures Committee, under the leadership of Prof. Brian Moss, in the next year.

Some very difficult decisions will be needed by the membership. I have argued vigorously previously that the science and our journal are the glue that holds SIL together, and to lose the science foundation will shift SIL rapidly into one of the many relatively impotent Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs). Shifting to a more modern scientific journal has a cost, and even if electronic, the dominant costs for preparation remain. Most importantly, SIL must not lose its seminal role of interacting with and enhancing the limnological capabilities of our colleagues and young minds of developing countries. This important segment of global freshwater resources is not a mandate of most national limnological associations of developed countries. SIL must maintain that global responsibility.

The environmental challenges of inland waters – their condition, uses, and management – will reach unprecedented levels in the 21st century. Everyone with even the simplest levels of understanding recognizes that the present burdens upon most freshwater ecosystems are unsustainable. Degradation will continue at unprecedented levels, even in most developed countries simply because of the exponentially increasing pressures placed upon these finite resources. It is essential that the membership of scientific organizations such as SIL implement their understanding of water management needed to lessen the severity of the degradation and to improve the efficiency of use of these waters. In order to do so, it is essential for SIL to step forward proactively. The challenges before us are formidable but simultaneously exciting. These new thrusts cannot be done by the officers and other leaders in SIL alone – we need your enthusiasm and contributions!

Robert G. Wetzel >>>
General Secretary and Treasurer


Gorham, E. 1968. Journal coverage in the field of limnology. Limnology and Oceanography 13:366-369.