NSF announces ULTRA-Ex

Network News Spring 2009, Vol. 22 No. 1
NSF News

Urban Long Term Research Area Exploratory Awards

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced the first program solicitation for Urban Long-Term Research Area (ULTRA) Exploratory Awards-or ULTRA-Ex. The solicitation is co-sponsored by the U. S. Forest Service. The NSF and Forest Service, as a result of strategic planning in both agencies, have recognized the need to expand the knowledge of urban natural resource and human interactions, with the goals of sustaining these critical resources while creating productive and livable human environments. The new program is expected to provide $4.8 million over two years, for up to 16 awards across the United States.

The announcement and request for proposals can be found at: http://www.nsf.gov/dir/index.jsp?org=bio.

"ULTRA-Ex will provide support to enable teams of scientists and practitioners to conduct interdisciplinary research on the dynamic interactions between people and natural ecosystems in urban settings in ways that will advance both fundamental and applied knowledge," said Henry Gholz, NSF Program Director in the Division of Environmental Biology. Teams will require the involvement of researchers from the social and behavioral, ecological, and technical sciences, as well as partnerships with communities.

According to the solicitation, this unique new partnership will enable employees of the Forest Service and other federal agencies to participate as Principal Investigators (PIs) or co-PIs of proposals, if permitted by the organization submitting the proposal. But any support for activities at the federal agency must be provided through sub-awards. A limited amount of funding may be used to support Forest Service researcher salaries using Forest Service-contributed funds to the program, up to $50,000 for any ULTRA exploratory award. Salary support cannot be provided for other federal agency employees.

NSF has supported the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program for three decades, with 26 projects currently existing, including two urban sites in Phoenix and Baltimore. Over this time, the Forest Service has collaborated in supporting seven of the LTER sites, including the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) site.

Recent strategic planning by the LTER community has highlighted the need for greater integration of the social and ecological sciences across the LTER network, as evidenced in its decadal plan and the strategic research initiative titled "Integrative Science for Society and the Environment." LTER planning efforts, the success of the urban LTER programs, and the success of the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program (also co-funded and coordinated by NSF and the Forest Service) have led NSF and Forest Service leaders to jointly explore possibilities for development of a network of large-scale ULTRA projects.

Although ULTRA-Ex projects should enable research teams to develop more cohesiveness in anticipation of future ULTRA competitions, the primary products of ULTRA-Ex projects are expected to be publications and presentations for scholarly and practitioner audiences that disseminate research results, especially in peer-reviewed journals. Any potential competitions for ULTRA in the future would be open to all interested research teams, regardless of whether they have previously received an ULTRA-Ex project award.