Decadal plan for LTER now released

Network News Fall 2007, Vol. 20 No. 2

Over three years of effort by hundreds of LTER scientists went into the new Decadal Science Plan, submitted to the National Science Foundation (NSF) October 1 and released to the public early December. The plan maps out the Network's science agenda for the next 10 years. Entitled "Integrative Science for Society and the Environment: A Plan for Research, Education, and Cyberinfrastructure in the U.S. Long-Term Ecological Research Network," it makes an ambitious call for research that extends the Network's foundational strength in ecology and environmental biology to also embrace the social sciences relevant to human-environment interactions.

Through the leadership of the Scientific Task Force and Science Council chair, the plan is the culmination of three years of network-wide planning activities. "Through this effort we were able to achieve our goal of designing a one-of-a-kind long-term, multisite research plan that genuinely integrates social-ecological research," said Scott Collins, Task Force chair.

Phil Robertson, chair of the LTER Executive Board and Science Council, noted that "hundreds of scientists have been actively engaged in the development of the plan, which is truly a broad-based effort that represents the community's collective vision." Robertson added that the ecological community was "particularly excited about the potential for the plan to address important questions about the sustainability of ecosystems on which we all depend-questions that are not now being addressed in any comprehensive way."

The plan, available at, has seven parts preceded by an Executive Summary:

  1. An Integrated Research Plan that provides a blueprint for the next phase of LTER science and describes plans for network-level research into fundamental questions about socio-ecological relationships in important U.S. and international ecosystems
  2. A description of the EcoTrends project, a compendium of long-term ecological trends at and across LTER sites
  3. A strategic plan for education in the Network
  4. A strategic plan for Network cyberinfrastructure
  5. A new governance structure for the Network
  6. A new social-ecological research framework known as Integrated Science for Society and the Environment

Since planning began almost three years ago, the Network has held scores of workshops and planning meetings that included scientists from all 26 LTER sites as well as many from outside the network. Participants have included ecologists, geoscientists, oceanographers, and other environmental scientists; social scientists such as geographers, economists, sociologists, and cultural anthropologists; information scientists expert in cyberinfrastructure design and implementation; and educators at the university, K-12, and public outreach levels.

Bob Waide, Executive Director of the LTER Network Office, observed that the most exciting and significant element of the plan was the involvement of many different disciplines, and particularly social scientists, to address urgent national needs from a socio-ecological perspective.

The plan outlines how LTER will direct its research and education activities to address environmental grand challenges in three topical areas: land and water use change, particularly with respect to working landscapes and urban systems; climate change including variability and the changing frequency of extreme events; and changes in nutrient mobilization and biodiversity, as particularly related to species introductions.

The plan was presented to the NSF Advisory Committees for Biology and for Environmental Research and Education in October, and discussions about it are now on-going within several Directorates.