LTER symposium at AAAS Annual Meeting to discuss social-ecological research

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Understanding the interface between social and ecological systems is crucial for effectively addressing pressing environmental challenges. According to Phil Robertson, Chair of the National Science Foundation's Long-term Ecological Research (LTER) Network and professor of ecosystem science at Michigan State University, "solutions to problems that range from climate change to over-exploitation of environmental resources to nitrogen pollution require more than knowledge about the biophysical environment or knowledge about how humans react to such problems. Crucially, knowledge is needed about the interface - how the biophysical and social domains interact."

Robertson observes that environmental research in the U.S. and elsewhere has traditionally been conducted in separate spheres with few formal interactions. In part, he says, this is due to the absence of a unifying framework that provides the potential to understand interactions and feedbacks. "In particular, new frameworks are needed to help us understand how humans perceive the critical services provided by ecosystems, how these perceptions change behavior and institutions, and how behavioral and institutional change in turn feeds back to affect ecosystems and their ability to deliver future services."

With this in mind, researchers from the LTER Network have organized a symposium to discuss LTER's Integrative Science for Society and Environment (ISSE) framework, which was developed exactly with this kind of issue in mind, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting Feb. 18-22, 2010, in San Diego, Calif. Scott Collins, a Biology professor at the University of New Mexico and Principal Investigator of the Sevilleta LTER site, leads the effort to develop this framework. The symposium will feature three examples of how LTER's framework can provide insights into how ecosystems and society interact:

  1. Socio-Ecological Interactions in Coastal Marine Ecosystems of Southern California by Daniel C. Reed (University of California at Santa Barbara), working at the Santa Barbara Coastal LTER site;
  2. A Socio-Ecological Approach to Landscape Fragmentation and Development in Central New Mexico by Michael Agar (University of Maryland) and Scott L. Collins (University of New Mexico), working at the Sevilleta LTER site; and
  3. Linking Ecological and Social Processes in Metropolitan Baltimore Watersheds by Mary L. Cadenasso (University of California - Davis) and Steward T.A. Pickett (Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies), working at the Baltimore Ecosystem Study LTER site.

The ISSE framework seeks to understand societal and environmental linkages in ecosystems as disparate as arctic tundra, eastern forests, deserts, croplands, and cities. Collins' and Agar's presentation, for example, will address some of the social and political drivers of growth and fragmentation in the Albuquerque area, and the impacts of growth on water quality and quantity in the Middle Rio Grande region. The marine, urban, and rangeland studies featured in this symposium demonstrate the value of an integrated, long-term, comparative research program in socio-ecological research, and point to new policy options for managing environmental change.

The LTER Network, now in its 30th year, is comprised of 26 sites funded by NSF to pursue basic research in ecology and environmental science. Since 1980 the sites have conducted research to better understand ecological phenomena in both natural and managed ecosystems. A broad variety of ecosystems are represented in the Network, including tundra, forest, grassland, desert, urban, and marine sites, among others. For further information, including a list of current sites and principal investigators, see

The Mission of the LTER Network is to provide the scientific community, policy makers, and society with the knowledge and predictive understanding necessary to conserve, protect, and manage the nation's ecosystems, their biodiversity, and the services they provide.

Contacts: McOwiti O. Thomas (, 505.277.2638 or Steve Carr (, 505.277.1821