Humboldt's Relevance in the Age of Big Data – University of Copenhagen

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27 August 2018

Humboldt's Relevance in the Age of Big Data

Humboldt

On 14 September 2019, it will be 250 years since the German Explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humbold was born. However, the "Humboldtian" approach to science is still relevant in the age of "Big Data”. New paper published in Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, led by Assistant Professor Naia Morueta-Holme from Center of Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, University of Copenhagen.

In a newly published essay, Geography of Plants in the New World: Humboldt's Relevance in the Age of Big Data, Assistant Professor Naia Morueta-Holme from Center of Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, University of Copenhagen and Professor Jens-Christian Svenning from Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, provide an overview of the relevant legacy of Humboldt in the field of plant geography.

Humboldt’s Tableau Physique, with the distribution of plants of the Andes depicted on the slopes of Mount Chimborazo and corresponding measures of environmental variables specified in the columns on each side (von Humboldt & Bonpland, [1807] 2009). Digital image courtesy of the Peter H. Raven Library/Missouri Botanical Garden.

Comparing the foremost insights and approaches of Humboldt’s time and of today, they highlight areas in which major changes have taken place and areas in which Humboldt’s approach is still relevant. They present advances in the description and understanding of plant geography, which have changed our entire worldview to a much more dynamic one. Further, they present some of the outstanding challenges of the field, and how solving them requires going back to the "Humboldtian" approach i.e., combining precise, quantitative empirical studies with a holistic approach.

Finally, they discuss how our recognition of the planetary impact of humans in the Anthropocene means that much of our research is no longer exclusively driven by curiosity, but also by the societal need to make predictions of ecosystem responses to environmental change. 

Contact 

Assistant professor Naia Morueta-Holme
Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate
Phone: (+45) 61 67 65 95
E-mail: morueta-holme@snm.ku.dk