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.

Informing Urban Policy (CAP LTER)
Ecosystem services are the benefits that people receive from their life-supporting environment. These include the "goods" that nature provides to us (i.e. food, water, fiber, energy) as well as soil fertility, air and water quality, pest control, recreation, and aesthetics. Natural systems deliver these services, but humans have also designed or engineered ecosystems to deliver specific services...
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New Ecological Theory (CAP LTER)
For most of ecology's history as a discipline, the focus of study was on pristine, wildland sites. Urban areas were seen as human-disturbed places less worthy of investigation. Urban ecology experienced a paradigm shift in the latter part of the 20th century, when it began to focus on the structure and function of cities as ecosystems. The establishment of two long-term ecological research sites...
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Urban Biodiversity (CAP LTER)
Most ecological theories are based on ecological patterns and processes in non-urban and less human-dominated environments. As cities grow and the global population becomes more urban, ecologists need to test their theories in urban settings and modify them, or even develop new ones, to reflect the ecology of cities. CAP scientists have used the special characteristics of urban food webs (i.e...
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Urban Heat Island Effects (CAP LTER)
The Urban Heat Island Effect (UHI) is when a city is significantly warmer than the outlying rural area due to the preponderance of concrete and asphalt surfaces that store heat during the day and release it at night. While urban heat islands exist in most large cities, the Phoenix metropolitan area has presented a special case for the study of this phenomenon because of its rapid growth over the...
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Food Web Base (CCE LTER)
Every second breath you take is courtesy of the phytoplankton -- the tiny single-celled photosynthesizers in the ocean. The oxygen the phytoplankton produce has allowed the proliferation of life on earth, while the carbon dioxide they fix into organic carbon helps to regulate the planet's climate, and forms the base of nearly all ocean food webs. So it is clearly important to know how fast the...
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Iron Importance (CCE LTER)
It has been known for over a decade that the limiting micronutrient iron, supplied from shelf sediments, can fuel the productivity of the nutrient-rich coastal upwelling systems of central California. The significance of iron supply as a factor in community production in the more nutrient-poor waters of southern California, however, has been unstudied. Conventional wisdom would suggest that,...
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Marine Ecosystem Services (CCE LTER)
Sustained, high quality ocean measurements have been made in the California Current System for over 60 years, thanks to the far-sighted work of CalCOFI (the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations). This extensive program initially surveyed the ocean from Baja California, Mexico to the state of Washington, although today it samples a more restricted region from San Diego to San...
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New Climate Pattern (CCE LTER)
Research in the CCE LTER site led to the discovery of a new mode of climate variability that has been named the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation (NPGO, Di Lorenzo et al. 2008). The NPGO was initially uncovered through the analysis of a computer model of ocean circulation, developed to reproduce and diagnose long-term climate measurements in the North Pacific. The study revealed variation in sea...
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Upwelling Matters (CCE LTER)
Years of previous research have focused on the process of coastal upwelling close to the continental boundary of the west coast of North America. A new study led by CCE-LTER (then) graduate student Ryan Rykaczewski and his advisor David Checkley identified, for the first time, important ecosystem contrasts between the strong nearshore upwelling in the classical coastal boundary region and the...
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Biodiversity Matters (CDR LTER)
Cedar Creek scientists discovered that the number of plant species in an ecosystem – its biodiversity – has a profound effect on ecosystem function. Long-term experiments show ecosystems with greater plant biodiversity are more productive and stable, and better able to soak up more of our carbon dioxide emissions as well. Moreover, the value of diversity grew over time in two long-term...
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Ecological Homogenization (CDR LTER)
Neighborhoods across biophysically different regions have similar patterns of development leading to ecological homogenization of basic neighborhood structure and residential yards more ecologically similar to yards across the nation than to their respective nearby natural areas. Fewer lineages of plants occur spontaneously in urban environments than in natural areas, and urban plants are...
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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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Plants and Fuel (CDR LTER)
Experimental studies by Cedar Creek scientists revealed that high-diversity mixtures of perennial prairie plants grown on nutrient-poor lands with no fertilization or irrigation have potential for use as a biofuel crop. Such a crop could offers many advantages over food-crop based biofuels, including net carbon storage, lower land use requirements, and reduced particulate emissions. The search...
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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Communication to Policymakers (FCE LTER)
The Everglades is imbedded in a human-dominated landscape that is constantly changing in response to local and global environmental manipulations. Working with an inter-governmental task force, FCE has helped create a reporting system linking the causes and consequences of these dynamics and communicating the results in a transparent format accessible to a wide audience. This reporting system has...
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Food Webs (FCE LTER)
Determining the sources, fate, and transport of dead organic matter is an important aspect of understanding the linkages between freshwater and marine environments in estuaries such as the Everglades. Comparative work among aquatic sites in the LTER network has shown that the dissolved form of organic matter is abundant in the Everglades but less biologically available compared to other estuaries...
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Productivity Gradients in Mangroves (FCE LTER)
Mangrove forests in the Florida Everglades form an ecotone, which is a critical link between freshwater marshes and the marine environments of Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. These forested wetlands provide shoreline protection against storms, "nurseries" for shrimp, fish, and crabs, as well as habitat for several endangered and threatened species such as the American crocodile. FCE...
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Productivity Paradox (FCE LTER)
FCE researchers have found that productivity in the Everglades, and other limestone-based Carbbean wetlands, is dominated by extraordinarily productive algal mats, despite extreme nutrient limitation. This phenomenon has been called a "productivity paradox" (Gaiser et al. 2011). This production would be expected to support a large biomass of aquatic primary consumers but does not (Turner et al....
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