View from the Chair

Network News Fall 2009, Vol. 22 No. 2

Thanks to all who made the 2009 All Scientist Meeting such a rousing success - once again we had a chance to see collectively what makes the Network shine: outstanding ecological science that transcends the boundaries of individual sites. Much of the historical strength we display as a network comes from a foundation of solid site-based science - questions asked and addressed at individual sites that require a long-term context to be answered well. But more and more our visibility arises from cross-site work that places local patterns and processes in a wider geographic context. Connecting the dots at these larger scales requires exactly the sort of network we've become; in fact it's fair to say that we've been one of the strongest forces in continental-scale connectivity science (see, for example, the June 2008 issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment).

The Network's synthesis initiatives, first described in our Decadal Plan, embody this perspective and the further recognition that socioecological questions are among the most important and recalcitrant issues that face us today. A meaningful approach to understanding climate change impacts, mitigation, and adaptation, for example, cannot divorce the biophysical from the social, and our emphasis on interdisciplinary science positions the network well to address exactly these sorts of challenges. All of our new initiatives take this approach and will be well positioned for pushing frontiers in their respective areas: Cryosphere Disappearance, Coastal Zone Vulnerabilities, Inland Climate Change, and Future Scenarios of Land Use and Climate Change (for full descriptions see

Recognition of the Network's achievements comes in many forms, and one of the more unique and memorable will be the American Institute of Biological Sciences Distinguished Scientist Award, to be bestowed on the Network in May 2010 in honor of our 30th anniversary. This is a tremendous honor and reflects splendidly on all of us and our collective accomplishments as a network. It's great to be so recognized.

One of our biggest challenges as we tackle large-scale questions of national import is to have in place a data infrastructure sufficient to the task. This is why one of our highest network priorities is to complete the design and implementation of the LTER Network Information System (NIS), including the revision and documentation of site data. The NIS is designed to facilitate the automated discovery and retrieval of site-based data in such a way that it becomes easily accessible by a variety of users, especially those attempting to address fundamental large-scale synthetic questions. Early efforts such as ClimDB, and more recent efforts like EcoTrends, illustrate the potential power of such systems. Funding for the centralized piece of this is now in place, with the National Science Foundation's generous support through stimulus dollars. We are now working on securing funding for the site-based piece, and looking forward to having a truly functional NIS in place in the coming years.

The Network is currently in a great place. We are well-positioned to address some of the nation's most important and basic socioecological and environmental science questions. And we are the charter member of an emerging constellation of environmental observatories that jointly will address the critical environmental challenges of the future. What a great place to be!