NSF reviews six months of LTER activities

Network News Fall 2013, Vol. 26 No. 3
NSF News

Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program activities at the National Science Foundation (NSF) cycle between mid-term site reviews and consideration of LTER proposals, against a steady background of activities to strengthen the LTER network. In 2013, we focused on mid-term reviews of 10 sites.  We have worked to strengthen the review process, and this year’s reviews have been organized and run a bit differently.  After the final site review is completed, NSF program officers from all the Directorates involved will mull over the new approach and the input we have received from the review teams and participants in 2013 reviews. We’ll use this information to begin a discussion with the LTER community to determine if additional fine-tuning is needed. 

Next year we will evaluate renewal proposals from 7 sites. We strongly encourage everyone to read carefully our newly revised LTER solicitation (NSF 13-588), as it includes some notable changes. It can be found on our website or by the direct link: http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2013/nsf13588/nsf13588.pdf

We recently initiated three activities to plan for the future of LTER. The first activity funds a small team to collect input on research networks, and specifically on the structure and function of existing network offices. This activity is motivated by the end of funding, in 2015, for the current LTER network office.  The information gathered by this team will be synthesized in a report to NSF that will inform our decisions about a future network office. The team met in June to formulate the scope and nature of their activities, and held an open discussion at the recent Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting in Minneapolis, MN. Several more meetings are planned for the fall and early winter. Information on this initiative, along with membership of the team, can be found at http://lnovision.colorado.edu. Diverse opinions and suggestions on a network office exist, both within and outside of the LTER community. We ask for your input via the website mentioned or by contacting one of the team members. 

The second planning activity brings together early-career researchers who are involved in long-term ecological research to catalyze discussions on the challenges and value of long-term research. Jen Lau (Michigan State University) and Mark Bradford (Yale U) initiated the effort by gathering a small group at the recent ESA meeting. Over the autumn, Jen, Mark, and others will develop this discussion into a concerted effort to bring together early-career researchers to identify the ‘next generation’ of long-term ecological research questions.   

Our third activity is discussion about additional LTER research opportunities; these will most likely be solicited through independent proposals rather than supplements. Ideas to date are for syntheses involving researchers from outside LTER and for postdoctoral support for researchers not previously involved with LTER research. If you have additional ideas, let us know. 

The value of long-term research was highlighted at the Minneapolis ESA meeting. The session, ‘Legacies from long-term ecological studies: using the (recent) past to inform future research,’ emphasized the role that insights from long-term ecological research play in defining future research questions, altering our long-held beliefs about how natural systems work, and predicting responses to future environmental perturbations. Ten speakers represented NSF’s two long-term research programs, LTER and LTREB (Long-term Research in Environmental Biology). Nicole Kaplan (‘From cows to carbon to curation: the biography of the ShortGrass Steppe LTER’), Brandon Bestelmeyer (‘Critical thresholds and recovery of Chihuahuan Desert grasslands: insights from long-term data), Chip Small (‘Climate-driven acidification in lowland Neotropical streams: insights from a 25-year dataset on groundwater-surface water interactions’), and Tim Kratz (‘Long-term studies as frameworks for peering into the future: climate forcing and ecological response in a set of Wisconsin lakes’) ably presented LTER research to a full audience.  

LTER’s successful Ecological Reflections program continues to exemplify collaborations among artists, humanists, writers, and research scientists.  NSF, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)  are currently developing a Memorandum of Understanding for future research opportunities.  Several opportunities for science-art-humanities collaborations already exist through programs at NEA and NEH. If you are interested in more information about these programs, please contact Saran Twombly (stwombly@nsf.gov). 

Federal budgets remain uncertain as we enter Fiscal Year 2014, which begins on  October 1, 2013.  We are working hard to present a strong and convincing 2014 LTER budget, although we will likely function under a ‘continuing resolution’ for some period of time.  It is much too soon to know what the implications are for 2014 renewal budgets, supplements, or other activities.  We will keep you apprised of the budget situation as best we can. 

Finally, some personnel changes: Matt Kane is off to Tucson on sabbatical until August 2014. Linda Deegan is the new DEB partner in LTER. We also are fortunate to have a new, dedicated Program Specialist, Andrea Sojda-Stintzi.