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.

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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Changes in Ice and Heat (PAL LTER)
Changes in sea ice reflect changes in atmospheric and ocean circulation and properties, while the changing seasonality of sea ice plays a predominant role in controlling much of the polar marine ecosystem. Since the late 1970s satellites have allowed us to track sea ice changes from space. For example, using long term satellite data we can determine the length of the ice season by tracking...
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Delicate Conditions (PAL LTER)
The PAL study region along the western Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most rapidly warming places on the planet (see bullet 2), and the ecosystem is responding to the rapid climate warming. PAL observations of the Antarctic marine foodweb started in 1990, but some changes are just now becoming apparent. Antarctic foodchains are traditionally believed to be short and simple, efficiently...
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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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Penguins And Climate Change (PAL LTER)
The phrase "canaries in the coal mine" has long been understood to reference an environmental early warning system, alluding to the observation that changes in the behavior or even death of caged canaries could reliably alert working miners to the possible presence of lethal underground gases. Long-term ecological research in the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) has revealed an analogous...
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Modeling Microbial Chemistry (PIE LTER)
Scientists understand quite well how chemicals react to produce new compounds, such as when oxygen mixes with natural gas and burns to produce carbon dioxide plus water, but as soon as biology is added to the chemical milieu, the task of predicting what chemical reactions will occur and how quickly remains a great challenge. Primitive organisms, such as bacteria and other microscope life, are at...
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Salinity and Nitrogen (PIE LTER)
Primary production in most estuaries and coastal marine waters is limited by the availability of nitrogen. Therefore, understanding nitrogen cycling is critical to predicting how coastal systems will respond to an increased delivery of nutrients from land. While nitrogen is an essential element, an over abundance of nitrogen leads to algal blooms and hypoxia in estuarine and coastal ecosystems....
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Scale Matters (PIE LTER)
By conducting large scale, long-term studies of entire river-estuary networks, PIE scientists revealed ways that human activities and natural processes interact to control the flow of water and nutrients from the land to the ocean. This science helps to guide the reduction of harmful nitrogen pollution in coastal waters. A myriad of human activities alter the hydrology and biogeochemistry of...
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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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Tipping Points (PIE LTER)
PIE scientists have documented that salt marsh primary production responds to sea level anomalies at several locations along the east coast of the United States. At Plum Island, salt marsh primary production is nearly twice as great during high sea level years as opposed to low sea level years (Fig. 1). Many marshes are perched high in the tidal frame at an elevation that is super-optimal for the...
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Watching from Space (SBC LTER)
The relatively recent emergence of satellites to characterize the earth's surface has led to significant advances in the environmental sciences that affect our everyday life (witness, for example, Google Earth). The large spatial coverage obtained from satellites and aircraft enable regional and global comparisons at time [Ed’s note: don’t you mean geographic?] scales that would be near...
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Wave Impact (SBC LTER)
Scientists have long debated over which of two factors, resource availability (also called "bottom-up") or consumer pressure ("top-down"), holds more sway in controlling the structure and dynamics of natural communities. This debate has been more ardent in discussions about the shallow marine systems dominated by large kelps along the California coast. Scientists generally acknowledge that...
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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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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 And Disease (SEV LTER)
In the spring of 1993, a flu-like disease appeared in young healthy adults in the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States, with an early mortality rate of 70%. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control identified the cause as a previously-unknown hantavirus, a group of viruses carried by rodents and known to infect humans in Asia and Europe, but not previously identified in North America...
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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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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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Dynamic Coastal Landscapes (VCR LTER)
Coastal landscapes are among the most vulnerable to changing climate conditions. Periodic, extreme storm events, superimposed over background conditions of gradual sea-level rise, can force dramatic changes in these geographically marginal, unprotected systems. The redistribution of sediment by waves and currents is typically the driving force behind these changes. For instance, storm waves...
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Importance of Bottom Dwellers (VCR LTER)
Shallow coastal ecosystems are highly sensitive to rapid changes in population and land use occurring in the coastal zone. Nutrients associated with sewage, fertilizer, and other by-products of anthropogenic development flow from streams, rivers, and groundwater aquifers into coastal waters. As a result, the rate of nutrient loading to coastal bays is directly related to agricultural, forest, and...
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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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Regional Shoreline Change (VCR LTER)
Barrier islands on the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast are characterized by dynamic patterns of shoreline movement. Erosion and accretion driven by episodic storm events, gradual sea-level rise, and natural or engineered changes in sediment supply occur at a variety of temporal and spatial scales, with significant implications for coastal management. VCR researchers were among the first to show that...
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Network Information System (NIS) Data Portal (LNO LTER)
The NIS Data Portal is the new interface to LTER data in the NIS. The NIS repository contains data contributed by 27 past and present LTER sites. See the NIS Data Portal here
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