Opportunities and challenges for LTER in the coming year

Network News Fall 2011, Vol. 24 No. 2
NSF News

It is a pleasure and an honor to have this opportunity to greet the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) community. The coming year promises new opportunities and challenges for LTER researchers. The program is uniquely positioned to lead the broad environmental research community in initiatives that require integration across broad spatial and temporal scales. Interest in research at these broader scales is growing, as evidenced by new programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and by the success of efforts like Nut Net. LTER has the potential to be at the forefront of these initiatives. . This opportunity is matched by the urgent challenge of prioritizing activities and the use of resources, including time, in response to certain budget constraints.

The explosion of information technology, falling costs, and opportunities for automated data collection present another clear opportunity for LTER. As a data-rich research program, LTER has faced the demands of data management for years. This opportunity is matched by a host of new questions and challenges:

  • What is most efficient way to meet LTER data management needs?
  • How can a spatially dispersed network achieve economy of scale in data management?
  • Should data be archived, or published as products?
  • What is the most effective way to tie scientific goals and objectives to realistic budgets for information management, particularly in light of rapid technological advances?

The next annual LTER Mini-Symposium will be an opportunity for the Network to highlight ongoing research related to sustainability, which is a major research focus at NSF. The challenge accompanying this opportunity is to figure out how LTER, by capitalizing on its unique structure, can lead sustainability science in the coming years.

Environmental research has changed enormously over the past few decades. Within NSF alone, the universe of environmental research programs has become complex and highly interdisciplinary. This complexity places LTER in a new context. The examples above are just a few of the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. What better time to develop future research strategies than on the heels of a 30-year review of the program? The review team that met with many members of the LTER community has now submitted its advisory report to NSF, and the report will soon be released to the broad ecological community for comment and input. The report provides a rare opportunity to assess the program's strengths and weaknesses, and a context for moving forward with strategies for strengthening the science, education, and outreach that the program supports. I look forward to interacting with the LTER community as you confront and tackle the opportunities and challenges ahead.

*Saran Twombly is the Program Director, Population and Community Ecology, Long Term Research in Environmental Biology (LTREB), Long Term Ecological Research (LTER), and the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC)