The last few months have been quite exciting for the LTER network. We have discussed adding new sites to the network, new opportunities for synthesis and involving new investigators at our sites, and new information on criteria for evaluating renewal proposals.
Perhaps most exciting are the prospects for adding sites to the network. There are active plans within the Division of Biology at the National Science Foundation (NSF) to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to add an arid or semi-arid site to the network. This is a particularly exciting development as we have lost two “dry” sites in recent years; Shortgrass Steppe and Sevilleta. There are also active plans within the Division of GeoSciences within NSF to add one or two marine/coastal sites to the network. This is a natural result of the success of the coastal sites already in the network.
Later this year, the first group of (hopefully many) LTER synthesis postdocs will begin work at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) in Annapolis, MD. This program was an outgrowth of the 2014 LTER Science Council meeting where we began a series of synthetic discussions about each of our five “core areas.” The 2014 discussions produced lots of ideas for synthesis on the core area of “primary production” and two new postdocs will take up some of these ideas. Our 2015 discussions on “flux of inorganic materials” produced a similar flowering of synthesis ideas and we are hopeful that there will be funds to support a second group of postdocs.
At NSF, the LTER program office has initiated efforts to make funds available for early-career researchers to begin new projects associated with ongoing long-term research. The possibilities for engagement include analyzing appropriate data from a particular site or sites, identify interesting trends, visiting the site to pursue ideas, and proposing research. There is interest in projects that address 1) the importance of variability or variation, 2) asynchronies, and 3) legacy effects, and particular interest in encouraging population ecologists and evolutionary ecologists to apply. The mechanism for requesting support would be through NSF’s Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) proposals.
The NSF LTER program office has also alerted us to new principles that will be used for evaluating renewal proposals. Conceptually, the two major changes are removal of an emphasis on new ecological theory or frameworks and removal of cross-site or network-level activities as a review criterion. The emphasis will be on development of an integrated understanding of how components of ecosystems interact. Cross-site activities are still welcomed, but have been removed as a review criterion to avoid the perception that they are an unfunded mandate. The scientific goals of the proposed research will be evaluated based on the following principles:
1) Formulation of a conceptual framework that integrates across ecosystem components
2) Use of this framework to develop predictions that link processes and observations across levels of organization or across temporal or spatial scales
3) Identification of important, general ecological questions that
a) derive from key theories
b) are motivated by the analysis of long-term data, and
c) require additional, long-term data collection to be answered
4) Development of predictive models.
These changes and principles will be the subject of much discussion in the Executive Board and in workshops at the 2015 All Scientists Meeting at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, CO. Looking forward to seeing everyone in Estes Park in September!