NSF-supported scientists present research results on ecosystem change
Annual NSF Long-Term Ecological Research mini-symposium to take place March 21
On March 21, scientists from across the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network will take part in an annual mini-symposium, presenting results on how ecosystems from coast to coast are changing. The symposium takes place the day before World Water Day, a yearly celebration of our planet's water resources.
How healthy will Earth's ecosystems, which ultimately depend on water, be by World Water Day 2027, 2067 and beyond? Topics at the mini-symposium range from dryland desertification and resilient coasts to the warming Arctic and U.S. Northeast forests recovering from acid rain.
LTER scientists will discuss long-term research that can help us understand what leads to ecosystem recovery, and what irreversibly transforms ecosystems.
These researchers have found that while many ecosystems show signs of pressure, there's hope amid the concerns. Some ecosystems are benefiting from protection and restoration efforts.
In addition to the scientists' mini-symposium talks, posters explaining findings from LTER projects will be on display throughout the meeting.
For more on NSF's LTER program, please see: NSF LTER Network and NSF Long-Term Ecological Research Discovery Articles.
Detailed Agenda: NSF LTER Mini-Symposium on Ecosystem Change
NSF LTER Mini-Symposium Presentation Abstracts
The nature of ecological change
Peter Groffman, chair, LTER Executive Board, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and City University of New York; co-principal investigator, Baltimore Ecosystem Study LTER
Change, stability, thresholds and resilience have been among the greatest challenges in ecology. These challenges can only be met with the type of coordinated, long-term science supported by the LTER program.
Beyond desertification: New models for state change in drylands
Brandon Bestelmeyer, USDA-Agricultural Research Service, Jornada Basin LTER
One of the classic ecosystem change stories is that over-grazing and drought turn grasslands into shrubby, degraded landscapes. Researchers at the Jornada Basin LTER site and its host, the USDA Jornada Experimental Range, have developed a new model of desert grassland ecosystem that's based on long-term data and experiments. Even after abrupt changes in plant life, gradual recovery appears to be possible -- sometimes along unexpected pathways -- as long as critical thresholds in species abundance and soil erosion are not crossed.
Fire and ice: Carbon cycling feedbacks in a warming Arctic
Michelle Mack, Northern Arizona University, Bonanza Creek LTER
About 30 percent of global carbon is in the vegetation and deep, carbon-rich soils of Arctic tundra and boreal forest ecosystems. Wildfires -- which are becoming more frequent with warmer and drier weather in the Arctic -- have the potential to stabilize or accelerate regional and global environmental change through carbon feedbacks. By comparing the effects of fire in the boreal forests of Alaska, where fire has been common for the past 10,000 years, with Alaska's North Slope, where fire is a new disturbance, researchers are beginning to understand the ways fire interacts with plant life, nutrients in soils, and permafrost to influence ecosystem stability.
Resilient coasts: How long-term research and restoration informs management
Karen McGlathery, University of Virginia, Virginia Coast Reserve LTER
Coastal habitats are the first line of defense against sea-level rise and severe storms. They're also vulnerable to change. A long-term, landscape-scale experiment with seagrasses at the Virginia Coast Reserve LTER is the first of its kind to show the role of restoration in reinstating ecosystem services, especially in what's known as "blue carbon" sequestration. Fifteen years of data on recovery and resilience to high ocean temperatures provide new insights that are being integrated into predictive models of future change, and informing management and policy decisions.
De-acidification of northeastern forests: An altered baseline?
Charles Driscoll, Syracuse University, Hubbard Brook LTER
Air pollution control efforts have succeeded in reducing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, but decades of acid rain have leached calcium and magnesium out of northeastern forest soils. These changes have altered the long-term future for forest ecosystems by changing what's in woodland soils. What does the acid rain story say about when, where and how recovery is possible?
Plausible freshwater futures: Yahara watershed, Wisconsin, USA
Christopher Kucharik, University of Wisconsin-Madison, North Temperate Lakes LTER
Scenarios can help communities think about alternative futures, but using them to drive decisions requires data. In Wisconsin's Yahara Watershed, researchers are combining data and modelling from the North Temperate Lakes LTER site with scenarios based on trends and events from the global scientific literature and stakeholder perspectives. The resulting assessments can help guide decisions about land and water use in ways that meet needs for human well-being, preserve ecosystems' ability to provide "services" such as fresh water and fertile fields, and build resilience for unpredictable environmental changes.
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