LTER Key Research Findings

Among the many research results from LTER sites, some findings stand out as being particularly important to achieve the LTER goal of providing information to conserve, protect, and manage the nation's ecosystems. Short descriptions of key findings at each site emphasize the importance of long-term data in understanding the pace and pattern of ecological change.

Soil Carbon (KBS LTER)
Soil organic matter, also called soil carbon, is very important to farmers because it contributes to good soil quality and crop productivity. It provides plants and soil organisms with the nutrients and food they need to grow. Soil organic matter also influences many soil physical properties such as drainage and structure which help create a good environment for crop roots and boost crop yields....
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Too Much Of A Good Thing (CDR LTER)
An ongoing experiment now in its third decade at Cedar Creek has shown that even very low levels of nitrogen fertilization can reduce plant diversity. Cedar Creek is supporting a global experimental network (The Nutrient Network, or NutNet) testing the generality of these results at 70 sites on 5 continents. Established in 2005, this collaborative experimental network was established to...
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Enriched Atmosphere (CDR LTER)
Cedar Creek research demonstrates that anticipated atmospheric CO2 levels predicted for 2075 will increase plant growth and carbon sequestration in grasslands in fertile areas, but only weakly in arid ecosystems with low nitrogen. These results suggest that ultimately atmospheric CO2 levels will rise faster than predicted by leading models. BioCON (Biodiversity, CO2, and Nitrogen) is an...
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Air Pollution (NWT LTER)
Alpine environments are sensitive indicators of air pollution. By combining monitoring of high-elevation ecosystems and field experiments, NWT scientists have determined that current levels of nitrogen pollution associated with industry and agriculture are altering alpine plant diversity and are polluting lakes and streams, and may soon acidify soils. Long-term ecological measurements and...
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Water Towers (NWT LTER)
Scientists at NWT have documented how high-elevation mountain ecosystems serve as "water towers" to store seasonal snow until it is released later in the year during snowmelt runoff. Every year this melting snow provides large quantities of high quality water that drives the economy and the ecology of the western United States. Much of our research at NWT LTER is related to how changes in...
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Woody plant encroachment (KNZ LTER)
Predicting how ecosystems will respond to forecast environmental changes and to evaluate the consequences of those responses is a major challenge for ecologists today. One of the most prevalent contemporary land-cover changes is woody plant encroachment into grasslands and increased cover of shrubs and trees in grasslands and savannas. Causes of increased woody plant abundance may vary in...
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Climate variability and change (KNZ LTER)
Climate is a critical driver of grassland structure and function. Grasslands occur in areas that are prone to occasional drought and are characterized by highly variable patterns of rainfall, both between (inter-annually) and within (intra-annually) years. North American grasslands were formed by climate changes originating during the Miocene-Pliocene transition, and their present day...
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Fire and Grazing (KNZ LTER)
Understanding the ecological effects of fire and grazing in grasslands is an important aspect of research at the Konza Prairie (KNZ) LTER site. The tallgrass prairies of North America were shaped by natural disturbances that included periodic fires and the activities of ungulate grazers, and these remain important processes in tallgrass prairie and other grasslands around the world. In order to...
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Restoring Grasslands (KNZ LTER)
Restoration ecology seeks to repair the diversity and dynamics of ecosystems degraded by human activities. Restoration studies in tallgrass prairie have become a core part of the Konza Prairie LTER (KNZ) program over the last decade, and are particularly timely because human activities have resulted in widespread loss and degradation of tallgrass prairie and other temperate grasslands. Here we...
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Grassland stream ecology (KNZ LTER)
Grasslands and wooded grasslands cover around 40% of the Earth’s terrestrial surface and more than ¼ of global runoff originates from these systems. Yet, surprisingly little is known about the ecology and unique properties of streams that link grasslands to downstream habitats. Understanding the ecology and ecosystem services provided by small headwater streams in the Great Plains region is...
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Scaling Up to the Catchment (CWT LTER)
Though Coweeta became one of the first LTER sites in 1980, the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory as funded by the United States Forest Service has been in existence since 1934. Today the LTER and the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory coexist in the same complex of buildings and laboratories, collaborating and sharing data that now spans nearly eight decades. This data set has given Coweeta researchers...
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Forest Biodiversity (CWT LTER)
Simple models predict that biodiversity of forests should be much lower than that actually observed. Because only a few limiting resources are evident for trees, simple models would indicate that a forest would ultimately stabilize with only the few species that are the strongest competitors for the few available niches. However, observed diversity is much higher. High-dimensional regulation (...
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Future Nitrogen Cycling (CWT LTER)
Understanding how global change will affect patterns of nitrogen (N) loss from forests is an area of special importance for researchers. Atmospheric deposition of N associated with anthropogenic activities and the sensitivity of microbial processes that convert organic N to plant available forms to temperature both point to the likelihood of increased N export from forests as increased rates of...
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Climate Change and Habitat (CWT LTER)
Ecologists have long been interested in how patterns of species distribution and diversity shift with changing climates, a concern that has spiked as the reality of rapid global climate change becomes increasingly apparent. Knowing whether certain species are threatened by shifting climate patterns is important for planning management activities and predicting how ecosystem functions can change...
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Clean Water and Land Markets (CWT LTER)
The growing population and increased consumption rates of the last hundred years make clear that we no longer have the luxury of using economic models that externalize environmental costs as if natural resources were infinite. The rapidly growing population in North Carolina- estimated to increase by 50% over the next quarter century and affect up to 8 million acres of natural land- is a prime...
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Predicting Regional Climate (CWT LTER)
Predicting the impact of climatic changes on biota and ecological processes hinges on accurate projections of regional climate change. Researchers have already shown that there exists enormous variation in the manifestation of global climate change from region to region, with different areas of the globe experiencing widely varying shifts in climate patterns. Perched precariously in the middle of...
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Controlling Plant Invaders (CWT LTER)
Invasive species are changing the structure and function of our native ecosystems, there is a need for effective management of these species to protect ecosystem services and biodiversity. Through a desk study which collated all published research on the primary plant invader of forests across 25 U.S. states, Microstegium vimineum, Coweeta researchers showed how ecological theory can be used to...
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Art and Nature (AND LTER)
Decades of experience with the conflicts concerning management of forests of the Pacific Northwest, especially old growth, reveal that these societal issues cannot be addressed with science alone – at their core these are issues of personal values. Towering, ancient forests and the incredible complexity of ecosystems populated by thousands of species are sources of inspiration distinctive to each...
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Coastal Marshes and Rising Sea Levels (VCR LTER)
Tidal marshes play a vital ecological role in coastal landscapes. They act as a filter for nutrients and pollutants from the land and provide habitat and food for a variety of species important to conservation. As sea level rises, marshes can maintain their relative elevation through vertical accretion: increased tidal flooding of marshes leads to increased deposition of sediment, gradually...
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Predicting Change (VCR LTER)
VCR scientists are using this knowledge to forecast climate change effects on these fragile coastal landscapes. Plant ecological dynamics on barrier islands are a function of complex interactions and feedbacks between individual species, environmental factors, and geological processes. However, long-term studies of barrier island ecology in the VCR LTER site has revealed that the controls on...
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Carbon Storage in the Southwest (SEV LTER)
There is broad consensus among scientists that the ongoing increase in atmospheric CO2 is changing global climate. The role of ecosystems in regulating atmospheric CO2 depends on the relative balance of gross primary production (GPP, total carbon assimilated by photosynthetic organisms) and ecosystem respiration (Re, total carbon released by respiration). Both GPP and Re respond to fluctuations...
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Climate Forecasts (SEV LTER)
With widespread attention and national debate focused on the physical, biological and societal implications of increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2, robust assessments of the response of Earth's climate to fluctuations in atmospheric CO2 are in high demand. Information about the climatic effects of past fluctuations in atmospheric CO2 concentrations can provide an important perspective...
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Working Together (SBC LTER)
Classical approaches to fisheries stock assessment and thus management rely on methods that are expensive, time-consuming, and not conducive to managing data poor stocks. Moreover, many nearshore rocky reef species exhibit spatial variation in harvest pressure and demographic rates that further limiting traditional approaches to stock assessment. In response to these management challenges,...
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Spatially-Explicit Fish Movements (PIE LTER)
There is a growing understanding of the need to restore coastal ecosystems to support both natural and human populations. In a degraded, developed watershed, setting realistic goals for restoration is challenging because the human footprint has substantially altered the historic biological and physical characteristics. The maintenance of a resilient population of anadromous fish, i.e., fish that...
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New View (PAL LTER)
The observed changes in polar ecosystems require the research community to develop the capacity to resolve changes and understand their global implications. Traditional modes of sampling will not suffice and efforts must be focused on developing networks capable of operating in a harsh environment and maintaining themselves for sustained periods at sea. Realizing this, PAL scientists have...
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