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News Release 15-091

NSF awards $4.8 million to enable creative, collaborative use of ecological data

Research will leverage data from the National Ecological Observatory Network

aerial view of Dalton Highway, Alaska

Alaska's Brooks Range stands just south of the NEON site at Toolik Lake Field Station.

August 20, 2015

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has funded 19 projects to enable innovative biological research and foster collaborations that leverage data from the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), a groundbreaking, continent-wide observatory that allows scientists to systematically study the Earth's biosphere.

The awards, totaling about $4.8 million, are specific to NEON data, and involve scientists and engineers from nearly 30 institutions across the United States. The high-quality, standardized data collected by NEON can be used to generate comparisons of ecosystem health on regional and continental scales.

"These awards will encourage the community to think creatively about how to use the early science capabilities of NEON, and leverage NEON data more broadly," said James Olds, assistant director of NSF's Biological Sciences Directorate, which funds the NEON project.

When complete, NEON will include sites covering dozens of ecological domains. About 33 NEON sites are complete now, and provisional data from those sites is available via the NEON Data Portal. NEON-collected specimens and samples are also available. The observatory is expected to be fully constructed by the end of 2017.

The awards include 15 from NSF's Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) funding mechanism. The EAGERs provide up to $300,000 for two years to support short-term, proof-of-concept projects with high-payoff prospects. They cover a broad array of research questions, including: What role does microbe diversity play in the atmosphere? How are different species responding to the California drought? What processes account for the continental-scale patterns of biodiversity we see in the United States?

Many of the EAGERs are collaborations--28 principal investigators will work on the projects.

Four awards are for workshops, which allow researchers to come together over the course of one to two years, to collaboratively pursue analysis and synthesis of NEON data. Workshop topics include studying synergies between NEON and NSF's Long-Term Ecological Research sites, and ways to integrate NEON data with existing ecological data sets.

More information about NEON is available on the and in this NSF news article.

Investigators receiving EAGER awards are listed below.

  • James Clark, Duke University and Roland Kays, North Carolina State University: Probalistic forecasting of biodiversity response to intensifying drought by combining NEON, national climate species, and trait data bases.
  • Janet Franklin, Arizona State University and Frank Davis, University of California-Santa Barbara: How do microscale biophysical processes mediate ecosystem shift during climate change-drive drought?
  • Christopher Gough, Virginia Commonwealth University; Brady Hardiman, Purdue University; Robert Fahey, Morton Arboretum: Is canopy structural complexity a global predictor of primary production? Using NEON to transform understanding of forest-structure function.
  • David Breshears, University of Arizona; Abigail Swann, University of Washington; Scott Stark, Michigan State University: Prototyping assessment of ecoclimate teleconnections affecting NEON domains.
  • Phoebe Zarnetske, Michigan State University; Angela Strecker, Portland State University; Sydne Record, Bryn Mawr College; Benjamin Baiser, University of Florida: Using intraspecific trait variation to understand processes structuring continental-scale biodiversity patterns.
  • Michael Kaspari, University of Oklahoma: 20-year dynamics of North American ant communities: Evaluating the role of climate and biogeochemistry on ecological change.
  • Emma Aronson, University of California-Riverside and Folker Meyer, University of Chicago: Formation of a NEON microbial metagenomics data synthesis working group.
  • Ashley Ballantyne, University of Montana: Detecting disturbance and ecosystem response in continental observatory networks.
  • Julienne Ng, University of Colorado at Boulder: Disentangling the roles of ecological and historical processes in community structure: A continental-scale approach.
  • Katalin Szlavecz, Johns Hopkins University: Earthworm diversity at multiple scales: What can genetics tell us about the distribution of these important soil organisms?
  • Kathryn Docherty, Western Michigan University: Exploring ecosystem contributions of microbial diversity to the vertical atmosphere.
  • Michael Barker, University of Arizona: Genomic plasticity in response to climate change.
  • Charles Stewart, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Daniel Rubenstein, Princeton University; Tanya Berger-Wolf, University of Illinois at Chicago: Image-based ecological information system for animal sighting data for NEON.
  • Larry Conner, Ichauway, Inc. and Robert McCleery, University of Florida: NEON sites as a platform for transformative wildlife research.
  • Andrew Richardson, Harvard University: Scaling up terrestrial plant phenology from individuals to continental scale.

The principal investigators for the workshops are:

  • David Noone, Oregon State University: Integrated carbon and water for ecological and biogeochemical synthesis.
  • Alan Knapp, Colorado State University: Integrating NEON ANPP data with existing long-term and spatially extensive data sets - providing context and testing theory.
  • Peter Groffman, Institute of Ecosystem Studies: Synergies between NEON and LTER.
  • Nancy Glenn, Boise State University: Training in scientific discoveries with NEON's AOP.


Media Contacts
Jessica Arriens, NSF, (703) 292-2243, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2022 budget of $8.8 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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