Ecology has yet to be considered as "Big Science". Big Science means big bucks and ecology has yet to have the kind of infrastructure that physics' particle accelerators, astronomy's telescopes, oceanography's research vessels has had.
That's about to change with the National Science Foundation's NEON program. This program has $400 million slated for startup funding and another $70 million/yr to keep it running. These big dollars will set up and operate a network of 20 observatories across the US reflecting an optimal sampling design to measure the continent's ecological state.
The primary goal is to observe and forecast ecological and environmental change in wildlands. Climate change, nearby land-use, spread of invasive species and infectious diseases (like the West Nile virus) will be monitored. It's a very ambitious and timely program that will include a range of organisms and processes from soil microbes to landscape and atmospheric changes.
NEON represents the coming of age of ecology and environmental science at a time of the most rapid change seen in over a millennium. I spent yesterday at a NEON meeting in Fairbanks, participating in the discussion of where and what are the most important central processes to observe in Alaska, as well as the names of people who can do the organismal sampling of birds, mosquitoes, beetles, fish, small mammals and other focal organisms.
As Alaska's environmental changes accelerate in parallel to Earth's human population growth and energy consumption, this kind of integrative and systematic observation network becomes increasingly important. It's an exciting time to be an ecologist.