Colorado mountains

Ecological Research from a Truly Long-Term Perspective: What Needs to be Done Today to Support Ecological Analysis in 2100?

Working Group Reports
Final reports: 

Ecological Research from a Truly Long-Term Perspective: What Needs to be Done Today to Support Ecological Analysis in 2100?

LTER was created and predicated on the assumption that some ecological phenomena occur on too large a temporal and spatial scale to be effectively studied with a standard award (3-5 years).  But, it is equally true that some ecological phenomena occur on too long a temporal scale to be completely studied within the span of an individual researcher's career (3-5 decades). Optimizing today's efforts to support long-term research conducted on the scale of decades (or centuries) is a non-trivial challenge, especially if the goal is to support hypothesis-driven investigation, not just the accumulation of monitoring data.

In describing the early planning that led to the creation of NSF's LTER program, Callahan (1984) noted:

As a first phase in this process, NSF sponsored a series of three workshops between 1977 and 1979 to initiate and maintain close consultation with the ecological sciences community. Nearly 100 research scientists, potential users, and cooperators from the private and governmental sectors shared their knowledge, opinions, and advice with NSF. During this time the working title of the effort changed from "monitoring" to "research," having gone through "measurement" and "observation and study" along the way.  This evolution of titles documents the rejection by participants of collecting data for the sake of collecting data. It reflects the insistence of scientists on the organization of research projects around ecological questions and hypotheses of value in expanding ecological theory and for solving problems of environmental resource management.

Callahan also noted that, "Early on it was recognized that for long-term projects to be successful, they should be divorced, to a practicable degree, from the often vagarious behavior of individuals and institutions."

How can work today support hypothesis-driven long-term ecological investigations in 2100? Surely, whatever the solution, it has to be designed and conducted in a manner to avoid the "vagarious behavior of individuals and institutions." None of today's individuals will be involved (or even alive), and certainly some institutions will have disengaged and others joined the effort. The problem becomes, how to conduct collaborative research when you do not know, and cannot ever know, who your collaborators are. Yet this is the reality and the driving need for truly long-term ecological research.


Susan Stafford
Robert Robbins
Preferred date(s): 
Sept 12
Number of 2 hour sessions requested: 
Equipment requested: 
Due to travel constraints I would like to be scheduled for the 10-12 time slot on Wednesday, September 12. We will probably need overhead projector and LCD projector. I do not have one to bring with me.
Additional Comments: 
I am in the process of confirming invited guest speakers - Peter Arzberger, Randy Butler and one more TBA. IF they are not able to attend in person, I will ask if they can participate via Skype. Therefore, I would need SKYPE capabilities in the meeting room.
Working Group Materials
Room Assignment: 
Wind River A (100)

Background Photo by: Nicole Hansen - Jornada (JRN) LTER