An Overview of International Long-Term Ecological Research (ILTER) Network Activities
Waide, Robert B.
Executive Director, LTER Network Office, USA
The emphasis on long-term studies as a sub-discipline of ecology has accelerated rapidly during the last 20 years. From the initial designation of six U.S. sites in 1980, there has been a rapid expansion of the U.S. network and the initiation of networks in 19 other countries. The concept of long-term ecological research networks has not only spread but it has matured. In the case of the U.S. network, the initial focus was on long-term studies specific to sites representative of key ecosystems. A logical extension of this initial concept was the expansion of LTER research to broader spatial as well as temporal scales. The focus on scale led to efforts to regionalize results from LTER sites to landscapes and larger geographic areas. This broader approach necessitated the involvement of other disciplines in the research program and led to the vision of an LTER site as a research platform where many scientists from distinct disciplines focus their research. The power of cross-site synthesis among LTER sites refocused the research agenda on network level science. In addition, partnerships with educational institutions led to the establishment of programs like the schoolyard LTER. At present, global environmental issues are precipitating the establishment of a network of networks covering the globe to provide the understanding necessary to manage natural resources in a sustainable matter. This global network provides an infrastructure for the development of crucial research initiatives. Currently, LTER networks are involved in five global demonstration projects. These projects include analysis of net primary production using advanced satellite imagery, global observations of forest cover, efforts to develop carbon budgets at national global scales, studies to link decomposition and soil biodiversity, and a project to examine the relationship between biodiversity and productivity at continental scales. The international LTER network plays a key role in each of these demonstration projects.