View from the Chair

Network News Fall 2014, Vol. 27 No. 3

This summer we learned that the National Science Foundation (NSF) will not be renewing the Sevilleta (SEV) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program. Coincident with this decision, Scott Collins resigned as Chair of the LTER Network and I moved over from chair-elect to Chair. Under normal circumstances I would have served one year as chair-elect and replaced Scott upon the expiration of his full term.

First, our thoughts and condolences go out to all the investigators who have worked so hard for so many years to make the SEV an essential part of the LTER network and of the field of ecology. This is a devastating loss to our network and our discipline.  LTER would like to thank Scott Collins for his long years of excellent service to the network. SEV will have three years to wind down its operations; until then, it continues to be a full member of the Network.

Second, we need to take steps to ensure that the LTER Network doesn’t lose any more research sites. To that end, we are starting a series of meetings to discuss issues related to LTER proposals including conceptual models, long-term data, expectations from NSF, probation, and so on. The first of these meetings will be the afternoon of November 10 at NSF in Washington, DC. We envision that this first meeting will be relatively small, with a subset of site Principal Investigators and representatives from NSF. We then envision a larger meeting associated with the LTER mini-symposium in February 2015, a still larger meeting associated with the LTER Science Council meeting in May, and a yet larger meeting at the LTER All Scientists Meeting in September. Our goal is to get a clear sense of what NSF expects from our sites, an understanding of the approaches that different sites have taken to meet these expectations, and a set of “best practices” that sites can use as they prepare proposals.

This recent development reminds us that we need to redouble our efforts to write strong proposals, rigorously prepare for site reviews, and to exploit the unique opportunities provided by the LTER program. Reviewers of the SEV proposal clearly noted that this was a highly productive site carrying out state-of-the-art research on critically important topics. Yet, there were concerns about project cohesion and links to unique long-term data streams. Indeed, there have been many comments from the reviewer community over the years about a lack of integration among different components of LTER projects. This is a great challenge for us all and I am hopeful that our series of meetings over the next few months will help us avoid further site losses.

On a more positive note, it is important to remember that NSF remains firmly committed to a strong and full LTER network. Indeed, there is active discussion within the agency about a request for proposals to add new sites (hopefully arid land or grassland) to the network to replace the recent losses of the Shortgrass Steppe LTER site and SEV. NSF assures us that rumors about reducing the scope of the LTER network to facilitate funding for other initiatives such as NEON have no basis in fact (see “View from NSF”, which addresses many of these issues, elsewhere in this issue).