NSF supports scientists to study a variety of ecosystems,
from cold Antarctica to the hot, dry desert of New Mexico
to those of urban areas like Phoenix and Baltimore. Biologists
and other scientists are conducting research on how Earth
ecosystems respond to natural and human-caused changes
at some 26 Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites
in North America and Antarctica. They are investigating
how the many parts of our environment—from individual
species to ecosystems to global weather patterns—interact
to form the world around us. A better understanding of
the give-and-take between organisms and the environment
is critical to maintaining a healthy planet.
Studies of coastal estuaries, temperate coniferous forests,
Arctic tundra, tallgrass prairies and tropical rainforests,
long-term ecological research are providing insights. Scientist
now know for example, that many of the most important ecological
processes like nutrient cycling in soils, occur slowly. Because many ecological processes vary from year to
year, only a long-term view can discern important patterns.
At the Konza Prairie LTER site, researchers are working
to understand the interplay of prairies and fire by subjecting
experimental plots to short- and long-term intervals of burning.
Without periodic fires, the tallgrass prairies of central
North America would disappear into a woodland-shrub habitat.
But how often should they burn?
And, at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest LTER site
in N.H., scientists hope that by measuring all the chemical
energy and nutrients that enter and leave the forest, they
will see all that makes a forest more than a stand of trees.
To learn more:
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