Development and International Collaboration of East Asia-Pacific Regional LTER Network

Hen-biau King

Chair of the East Asia-Pacific Regional LTER Network Committee

Coordinator of the Taiwan Ecological Research Network (TERN)

Ecological phenomena and processes can be better understood using longer term and broader spatial scale approaches. The resulting information is helpful to assess and resolve complex environmental issues. This understanding encourages many countries to launch Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Networks.

Development of the first Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network began with the US LTER Program that was launched in 1980 with the support of U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). International LTER Steering Committee was organized in 1995 through the effort of the US LTER Office. Meetings of International LTER Steering Committee have been held every year since to encourage collaboration and communication among LTER around the world.

Regional LTER Networks have recently begun to develop one after the another. The first regional LTER committee was established in 1995 and was titled as "The East Asia-Pacific Regional LTER Committee". The committee calls for meetings every two years since. Parallel activities with the International LTER such as regional LTER meetings, workshops and many other ILTER are ongoing. National and regional LTER programs in many cases (particularly in the East Asia, Latin America, central and south Europe regions) are largely based on the US LTER network model.

Two overlap approaches are regarded as important in developing an LTER program. The bottom-up effort is a fundamental approach that sustains long-term studies originating from a multidisciplinary scientific community. Top-down efforts may be needed for countries where the commitment of funding (mainly governmental) agencies is crucial to the sustainability of the LTER program. The approach, which has been successfully adopted by the scientific community in Taiwan for initiating and sustaining an LTER network program, is given.

Many ecological phenomena and processes operate beyond political boundaries. A national LTER network must expand into broader spatial scale as to reach regional and continental levels. This sets the stage for the development of a regional LTER network, which is characterized by communication and collaboration between and among various national LTER programs.

Currently in the East Asia-Pacific region, five LTER Networks (or programs) have existed. This region has 40 existing LTER sites, including 29 sites in Chinese Ecosystem Research Network (CERN), 3 in Korea, 2 in Mongolia (including 1 site under development), 2 in the Philippines, 11(including 6 potential sites under development by the national park system of Taiwan) in TERN, and 1 potential site in Thailand. Some countries, such as Japan, have LTER networks that are developing but these may not yet be recognized. However, they have established research sites and long term projects in ecology are already underway. Some other countries, such as Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand, have expressed intense interest in developing networks of LTER sites. Many countries do not have officially established LTER networks but have country representatives actively participating in the International and Regional LTER activities. These countries, in our region, include Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand. The number of LTER sites in our region is likely to increase rapidly in the next few years as more nations establish their own LTER Network programs.

Establishing a regional LTER committee and organizing scientific meetings are but two of many ways to enhance bilateral or multi-national LTER activities. Others, such as reciprocal sites visits, student/scientist exchange programs, information transfer, cross-site/site comparisons and dataset sharing are examples of regional LTER activities. Scientists and funding agencies from all participating countries within a region must strive towards frequent cooperation, communication and the establishment of a unified vision for regional LTER development. A regional collaboration must be carried out by the countries within that region. In our region, TERN Office and Japan have hosted 1995 and 1997 biannual regional LTER workshops, respectively. While Korea (1999 ) and Mongolia (2001) will host future meetings.

A regional LTER network should serve as a clearinghouse for the information on the national LTER Network, providing web server facilities to allow connectivity to the servers for the LTER programs of different countries, as the International LTER Network Office currently does for various regions. Access to communication and information among individual scientists and networks is essential to developing LTER at regional level. Regional LTER networks should also develop interactions with other LTER regional Networks, and eventually become major components of the International LTER Network.

But we have not had a formal regional LTER network yet. This does not stop any possible interaction between or among sites of all levels of LTER organizations and other global research networks (such as IGBP, GTOS and similar efforts). Improvement of communication, data exchange, and research interaction among researchers involved in LTER networks is thus encouraged. The adoption of vBNS (very fast high performance Backbone Network System) in countries of our region is also recommended.

The enthusiasm of scientists and the commitments of their governments are vital ingredients to promote multidisciplinary, integrated, long term, and broad spatial scale research in ecology at both national and regional levels. A successful long-term ecological study requires secure and contiguous financial support. Typical financial sponsorship at national level is from governmental agencies of each country. The LTER program is crucial to understanding important ecosystem dynamics of our regional diverse environment Systems.

We look forward to having a close partnership among national LTER networks within our region as well as with other global research networks.