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Photo, caption follows:

Without periodic fires, the tallgrass prairies of central North America would disappear into a woodland-shrub habitat.
Credit: Konza Prairie LTER

Title: How Do Long-Term Changes Affect Earth's Ecosystems?
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:
www.lternet.edu

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