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Now that 2021 is here, most of us are ready to put last year behind us for good. However, 2020 wasn’t all bad from an LTER standpoint. Dozens of impressive research articles from across the network were published in top journals. We featured many of these in our monthly newsletters, but we couldn’t get to them all. That’s why we’ve dedicated this story to one final ‘2020 Roundup’ of some of the most interesting LTER papers that you (and we) might have missed when they were first published. Throughout the many challenges facing long-term research at this time, it’s safe to say that we continue to be impressed by the creativity, determination, and progress made by LTER researchers.

LTER Roundup 2020 – Papers to Remember

Considering the Case for Diversity in Natural Resources

This study compiled diversity literature from the last two decades in fisheries, forestry, range, and wildlife fields, and used a qualitative coding procedure to identify reasons articulated in support of diversity and to assess their underlying beliefs and assumptions. The authors found a high frequency of instrumental arguments for increasing diversity (e.g., diversity ‘helps’ natural resources). They encourage natural resources communities to expand the diversity discourse by engaging with themes developed in interdisciplinary diversity literatures, including equity, social justice, and intersectionality.

Synchrony matters more than species richness in plant community stability at a global scale

The stability of ecological communities is critical for maintaining productivity, soil fertility, and other ecosystem services.This time series analysis used 79 datasets from across the globe and found that stability was associated more strongly with the degree of synchrony among dominant species than with species richness. These results show that biotic drivers are as important to ecosystem stability as environmental drivers, and both alter the intricate relationship among richness, synchrony, and stability.

Press–pulse interactions and long‐term community dynamics in a Chihuahuan Desert grassland

Sevilleta LTER researchers looked at how wildfire (a pulse event) interacts with directional changes in climate (environmental presses) over three decades to affect plant community dynamics in a Chihuahuan Desert desert-grassland ecotone. Community dynamics were initially related to the warm and cool phases of the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO), but in the ecotone these relationships changed following wildfire, which reset the system.

Impacts of Seagrass Dynamics on the Coupled Long‐Term Evolution of Barrier‐Marsh‐Bay Systems

Coastal seagrass provides essential habitat for marsh organisms, and also reduces wave impact which helps hold sediment in place. Virginia Coast Reserve LTER researchers used a barrier‐marsh‐bay computer model to simulate how seagrass impacts the long-term evolution of neighboring marsh and barrier island landforms. They found that the presence of seagrass in the bay generally reduces the loss of marsh but under certain conditions may actually increase marsh loss. This study helps uncover some of the complex, large‐scale behavior of barrier‐marsh‐bay systems and the key feedbacks and mechanisms that give rise to it.

Tidal Wetland Gross Primary Production Across the Continental United States, 2000–2019

Tidal wetlands are a critical component of global climate regulation. For this study, researchers mapped tidal wetland gross primary production with unprecedented detail for multiple wetland types across the continental United States (including Georgia Coastal Ecosystems LTER) at 16‐day intervals for the years 2000–2019. 

Benthic megafauna assemblage change over three decades in the abyss: Variations from species to functional groups

Researchers tracked variation in megafaunal species on the seafloor over decades in the Northeast Pacific in one of the most detailed long-term records of megafaunal change for abyssal depths. The researchers found that species assemblages were dynamic even on short time scales, though some species groups followed longer term patterns.

Long-term hydrological response to forest harvest during seasonal low flow: Potential implications for current forest practices

In many regions, including the American Pacific Northwest, seasonal stream low flow is declining due to climate change and human actions. This article reviews the responses of seasonal low flow, catchment storage, and tree-water relations to forest harvest over long timescales and discusses the potential implications of these responses for current forest practices and aquatic biota.

Resistance, resilience, and vulnerability of social‐ecological systems to hurricanes in Puerto Rico

A comprehensive social–ecological understanding of hurricane effects in Puerto Rico is lacking, and finding effective methods to link measurements of storm intensity to the diverse components of tropical social–ecological systems remains a challenge. This article from Luquillo LTER investigators explores some of the key political, social, and ecological components necessary to evaluate the resilience of Puerto Rican habitats and communities to future hurricanes.

Three Decades of Divergent Land Use and Plant Community Change Alters Soil C and N Content in Tallgrass Prairie

Konza Prairie LTER Researchers analyzed soil collected over a 30‐year period to assess the long‐term effects of contrasting fire and grazing regimes on soil carbon and nitrogen. The study found that long-term changes in land use are impacting fire and grazing regimes, with resultant changes to nutrient levels and species assemblages.

Woody Plant Encroachment has a Larger Impact than Climate Change on Dryland Water Budgets

Grasslands around the world are being replaced by woody vegetation and bare soil patches, largely due to land degradation and a shifting climate. This study from Jornada LTER researchers modelled the potential impact of woody plant encroachment (WPE) on water availability in these ecosystems. The team found that water loss through groundwater discharge occurred when both woody encroachment and bare soil were present, and they argue that WPE should be given strong consideration when assessing the vulnerability of groundwater aquifers to climate change. 

Long-Term Ecological Research and Evolving Frameworks of Disturbance Ecology 

This article identifies three areas of research need: developing a flexible framework that incorporates feedback loops between social and ecological systems, anticipating whether a disturbance will change vulnerability to other environmental drivers, and incorporating changes in system sensitivity to disturbance in the face of global changes in environmental drivers. The authors review how discoveries from the LTER Network have influenced theoretical paradigms in disturbance ecology, and propose a framework for describing social–ecological disturbance that addresses these research needs.

Using Messy, Authentic Data to Promote Data Literacy & Reveal the Nature of Science

While the value of bringing contemporary research and messy data into the classroom is recognized, implementation can seem overwhelming. In this paper, two Kellogg Biological Station LTER postdocs discuss the importance of, and strategies for creating, frequent interactions with messy data throughout K–16 science education as a mechanism for students to engage in the practices of science, such as visualizing, analyzing, and interpreting data.