Scott Collins, new LTER chair

Network News Fall 2011, Vol. 24 No. 1
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Scott Collins (SEV), who was elected chair of LTER Executive Board and Science Council in May 2010, officially took over from Phil Robertson at the recent Science Council meeting in Georgia. Collins, who was Robertson’s understudy for one year as per LTER policy, will hold the position for two years and be eligible for re-election in May 2012.

Collins association with LTER dates back to the late 1980s when he started working at KNZ, where he is still involved in collaborative research on the interactive effects of climate change, drought, grazing and fire on mesic grassland ecosystems in North America and South Africa. Collins received his PhD from the University of Oklahoma in 1981. After a postdoc at Rutgers University, he returned to Oklahoma as an Assistant and then Associate Professor of Botany. In 1992, he moved to NSF as where he served as Program Director in Ecology, Long Term Ecological Research (LTER), Conservation and Restoration Biology, Terrestrial Ecology and Global Change, and Integrated Research Challenges. Collins also was the first NSF Program Director for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), helping to organize six NEON planning workshops from 2000 through 2002. He moved to the University of New Mexico in 2003 to become PI of the Sevilleta LTER program.

During his long involvement with the network, Collins has seen LTER evolve from a collection of independent research sites into what he calls a “somewhat” cohesive network of sites. However, he believes that LTER needs additional cross-site collaboration and integration to truly become a network. In his vision for LTER, which he laid out during the campaign for the chair’s position, Collins notes that one of the current challenges facing LTER is to further increase Network integration without harming the site-based programs that have been the hallmark of LTER science since 1980. He would like to see increased implementation of the Integrative Science for Society and the Environment (ISSE) framework, in whose development he was actively involved, and which was designed to generate cross-site integration, attract new talent, and increase disciplinary breadth.

Another challenge, according to Collins, is to build a strong and positive relationship with NEON, for which he notes LTER sites that are part of the NEON will be critical, especially through cooperation in areas such as data sharing and integration through the Network, not just individual sites. Collins also views NSF’s new Environmental Synthesis Center as a potentially valuable resource for ISSE synthesis efforts. He noted that it would be the Chair’s duty to address the recommendations of the upcoming 30-year review, which will be forward-looking and will likely identify several new opportunities and challenges for LTER.

Collins stint at NSF will come in handy in his new position where, as the spokesperson for the Network, he will serve as its advocate to NSF and other federal agencies and non-federal institutions.