The 2016 annual forum of the Royal Zoological Society of NSW was entitled: “The critical value of long-term field studies and datasets”. As Charley Krebs and co-authors comment in their paper, if there is one overall limitation on our ecological understanding, it is that our generalizations depend too much on short-term studies. All the authors in this theme edition of the Australian Zoologist identify the key reasons why long-term studies and datasets are important. David Lindenmayer states that long-term ecological research and monitoring studies are critical to tracking the state of the environment, assessing the effectiveness of management interventions, and informing policy and practices. White and Travers, in their 38-year study of the changes in frog communities in response to sand mining, conclude that the impact of mining does not disappear as a result of rehabilitation work, no matter how good it is. Brad Law takes another tack, noting long-term research on Australian bats as being glaring in its absence. He points out that long-term data are vital for understanding climate change impacts and other environmental changes resulting from management practices, such as timber harvesting or fire. Law concludes with the observation that improved technology has led to major advances in the study of bats, and firmly asserts that the degree of difficulty is no longer a reason to avoid studying bats. Plenary sessions were a feature of the forum. With the skilful facilitation of the plenary sessions by Paul Willis, many general and novel ideas emerged that were the result of listening intelligently to each of the individual accounts. Collectively, the authors and the participating audience demonstrated that there is critical value in long-term field studies and datasets. We highlight the key points and themes that emerged from the forum in this editorial perspective.