In 2016 and 2017, blogger and photographer Erika Zambello launched a road trip to visit as many LTER sites as possible. Follow her travels through the LTER Road Trip blog. See more of Erika’s work at E. Zambello Writing and Photography.

LTER Road Trip: How Soil Crusts Impact the Landscape

Dr. Rudgers examines a sample of soil crust.

Blue grama grass, golden stems meeting dead undergrowth beneath, completely surrounded Dr. Jen Rudgers in the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The meadow stretched as far as the eye could see, eventually meeting a dense slope of creosote shrubland, surrounded by bronze mountains in central New Mexico. The cool of early morning had already given… Read more »

LTER Road Trip: Finding Pika Poo

Looking for signs of pika among the rocks.

My second morning at the Niwot Ridge LTER dawned warm but windier than the day before, and I zipped up a red jacket over my long sleeves and jeans. Ashley Whipple, a graduate student, met me at the office building, and we trundled into one of the two SUVs shuttling up to the field site… Read more »

LTER Road Trip: Fluxes on Top of the World

On top of the world at Niwot Ridge.

My rental car clock read 7:30 a.m., but the parking lot at Niwot Ridge Long Term Experimental Research Site (LTER) was already buzzing with activity. Young people slammed rear car doors and packed backpacks, filled water bottles, and slathered on sunscreen. Inside the main building, a new cohort of young ecologists listened to a safety… Read more »

LTER Road Trip: Plight of the Lady Beetles

Dr. Landis looks for aphids in the soybean field plot.

Dr. Doug Landis waded into a soybean field in Michigan’s Kellogg Biological Station LTER Site. Bending down in the September heat, he carefully turned over leaf after leaf. After a few seconds he stopped, “Here they are!” I crouched down to my heels, bringing my face close to the rough underside of the leaf. Dr…. Read more »

LTER Road Trip: Conservation, Agriculture, and Michigan Farmers

Rows of corn.

Puffy clouds skirt the late summer sky, occasionally dumping a shower on our heads while Dr. Doug Landis and I walked between the crop rows at the Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) in Michigan. Breezes ruffled the soybean leaves like waves, but few insects or birds zipped through the sky above the crops. Near the corn… Read more »

LTER Road Trip: The MegaMe Monsoon Experiment

Researchers walk across the Sevilleta grassland.

Across the world, shrubs are encroaching on landscapes. In Virginia, they take over coastal islands; in Colorado, they move across mountain tundra. In New Mexico, creosote outcompetes native grasses, drastically changing the drylands ecology in the Sevilleta LTER and Wildlife Refuge. Surrounded by remaining grasslands and the mountains in the distance, I stood beneath one… Read more »

LTER Road Trip: Looking into the New Mexico Future

A switch controls the screens.

At night, 10 m x 10 m sliding screens come alive in New Mexico’s Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Across the refuge’s grass and shrubland regions, the screens roll across metal rectangles, trapping heat from the day and raising the temperature of the ground. Back at computers in Albuquerque, Sevilleta LTER researchers monitor their equipment,… Read more »

LTER Road Trip: Answering Biodiversity Questions with Big Bio

A diverse plot in Big Bio.

In my basic college ecology class, we spent an entire chapter discussing biodiversity. In the environmental field, there are a few bedrock principles we often take for granted: one, more diversity is good; two, biodiversity leads to more resilient ecosystems; and three, biodiversity should be a goal for land managers. But how do we actually… Read more »

LTER Road Trip: Restoring the Minnesota Bison

Bison and a bison exclosure in the background.

Dr. Chad Zirbel, a postdoc at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve (CDR), and his intern stood in the hot Minnesota summer sun, intent on gathering data from the vegetative plot in front of them. Grasses swished across their feet in a field broken only by a few oak trees in this – now rare –… Read more »

LTER Road Trip: Daily Discoveries at Cedar Creek

Mystery solved! It's a wasp.

Dr. Caitlin Potter bent down on the sandy road, squatting on her heels to point out teeny-tiny footprints. “These are beetle tracks,” she explained, halting a few yards later to observe another set, “They’re everywhere!” We walked on the road-trail through a small grassland, en route to Cedar Bog Lake at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem… Read more »