Scientists expound on 'ecological connectivity'

Web Updates
Top Stories

'Frontiers' special issue highlights LTER work

Scientists have long suspected that the world's ecosystems were interconnected in more ways than might appear at first glance. Now, a group of Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) scientists and their non-LTER colleagues have taken an in-depth look at this very issue in a series of articles published in a special issue of the Ecological Society of America's Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Issue 5, Volume 6 of June 2008.

The special issue is titled "Continental-scale ecology in an increasingly connected world" and features guest editorials by Debra Peters (Jornada Basin LTER) and Steve Carpenter (North Temperate Lakes LTER); commentaries by LTER chair, Phil Robertson (Kellogg Biological Station LTER), and a team from the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON); and a series of articles authored by more than a dozen LTER and NEON, and their collaborators.

The authors use data integrated from existing and developing networks, such as LTER and NEON, both of which are programs of the National Science Foundation (NSF), to discuss how human influences interact with natural processes to influence global connectivity. They point out, for example, that the rapid rate of globalization means that people often inadvertently introduce non-native plants, animals, and diseases-such as fire ants from South America and the SARS virus from China-into new locations where they can create large, expensive problems. They note that the United States currently spends over $120 billion per year on measures to prevent and eradicate invasive species. The authors conclude that understanding ecosystem connectivity across a range of scales-from local to regional to continental-will help scientists predict where invasive species are likely to go next, and suggest that networks of large-scale experiments are required to predict long-term ecological change.

The special issue of Frontiers, supported with funding from the NSF, the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), and the Consortium for Regional Ecological Observatories, is free to the public and available at

You can learn more about ecological connectivity in a June 2, 2008 podcast interview with Debra Peters on ESA's web site at

You can also read press releases summarizing the special issue by ESA at and NSF at