Project Summary

This proposal is the result of collaboration initiated at the recent ASM meeting in Seattle and represents a synthesis of two workshops summarized and reported to the LTER executive committee by the lead PIs (see reports by Childers & Gross and Wilson et. Al.). The goal of this follow-up project is to foster and promote the use of LTER network-level synthesis science to develop greater understanding of the underlying dynamics of engineered and designed ecosystems and explore the implications of those dynamics for the valuation and management of ecosystem goods and services within the LTER network. We will focus on ecosystem goods and services because it is an inherently synthetic and interdisciplinary concept, bringing together both human and biophysical processes in one common, integrative framework. A core team of LTER scientists will be selected from both the social and biogeophysical sciences to champion this new research initiative. The team will meet three times over the course of 2004 and be hosted, in turn, at three LTER sites—FCE, BES and KBS. Our vision is to leverage these face-to-face, cross-site visits, and ‘scale up’ the team’s efforts to a wider set of LTER sites by (a) developing a written plan for network-level synthesis that can logically evolve into a planning grant working group by late Fall 2004 and (b) seeking supplementary funding through the NSF Biocomplexity coupled human-natural systemsp competition.

Project Rationale

As LTER scientists, we live and work in landscapes that are increasingly subject to changes brought about by the actions of human beings who are seeking to maximize their economic well-being and the well-being of the communities they live in. Disturbance is a natural ecological process; natural systems regularly oscillate between natural and disturbed conditions. Moreover, landscapes can be altered by humans and bring about changes without conscious intent. Unlike an altered or disturbed ecosystem that has been affected by humans without conscious purpose, however, an engineered or designed ecosystem is one that has been extensively modified by humans to explicitly provide a set of ecosystem goods and services—more fresh water, fewer floods, more trees, more food products, fewer pollutants, and so on. This topic is thus an important one for LTER network-level research because in the 21st century, it is clear that many of our sites are embedded within, or adjacent to, landscape mosaics that are to a greater or lesser degree affected by the conscious efforts of people to harness the goods and services provided by ecological systems.

As figure 1 shows, the extent and diversity of ecosystem types—natural, altered, disturbed, and designed—across the LTER network provides an excellent synthesis research opportunity because scientists who work in the network represent the full spectrum of experience and expertise needed to develop a broad and integrative understanding of the social and ecological processes that influence the functioning of such ecological systems. For example, at FCE LTER, wetlands in the Everglades that were once radically altered to provide humans with agricultural land are flood control are now slated to be ‘rehabilitated’ by the federal government to better provide freshwater supply and recreation opportunities to a rapidly growing human population in Southern Florida. At BES LTER, watersheds draining into the Chesapeake Bay in Baltimore MD are now being restored to a more ‘natural state’ to provide recreation opportunities for city residents and reduce nutrient loads into the estuarine system. At KBS LTER, the landscape has been continually modified throughout recorded history to maximize the delivery of specific agricultural, horticultural and pastoral products that change in response to market signals and society.

Our goal is to advance basic theory in both the biogeophysical and social sciences as our research team comes to better understand the nature of the similarities and differences between natural, altered, disturbed and designed ecological systems across the network. We also envision the better use of ecological, social and economic knowledge will improve the well being of the lives of people in the communities where the LTER network does its business. The costs of engineering, restoring, and rehabilitating ecological systems are often high, both economically and ecologically. Our work on LTER network-level synthesis will directly address how societal goals and decision processes act as drivers of ecosystem and landscape change and the tradeoffs involved when some ecosystem goods and services are disrupted as the systems upon which they depend are engineered to maximize the delivery of other valuable goods and services.

Project Organization

To achieve our goals, we propose to organize and facilitate a series of small 3-day cross-site planning meetings at (1) the FCE LTER site, (2) the BES LTER site and (3) the KBS LTER site to coalesce a core interdisciplinary team dedicated to this new synthetic research agenda. The focus of the meetings will not be to collect and analyze new data, but instead will be focused on providing the intellectual space and time for the team to work together to articulate and implement a truly network-level synthesis science project. Rather than using the funds to visit all possible LTER sites represented by our typology in figure 1, our plan is to start with three focused site visits at FCE, KBS and BES, and then ‘scale up’ through a series of focused, strategic initiatives that include proposing a network planning grant working group by late Fall 2004, and reaching outside the LTER network for supplemental funding to the NSF Biocomplexity coupled human-natural systems competition.

The research team will be comprised of 6 individuals drawn from the represented sites, many of whom have met and worked together at various professional forums including the recent ASM in Seattle, but who have not yet been able to formally coordinate efforts between their respective sites due to cross-site funding constraints. To begin, the core team, many of whom are principal LTER investigators, will be drawn from the following pool of representatives from the participating LTER sites: Matt Wilson, Steward Pickett, and Morgan Grove, Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES); Dan Childers and Fred Sklar, Florida Coastal Everglades (FCE); Kay Gross and Craig Harris, Kellogg Biological Station (KBS).

Anticipated Products

During the cross-site meetings, the project team will generate significant value-added products for the LTER network: (1) At the end of each site-visit, a white paper/report will be written and submitted by the Lead PIs to the LTER network office outlining the progress of the team. The cumulative result of this process will be a specific plan for network-level synthesis on this topic that can logically evolve into a planning grant working group by late Fall 2004; (2) In addition, a co-authored manuscript submitted to an interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journal (i.e., Society and Natural Resources, Ecosystems etc.) articulating the conceptual framework and vision of the project within the LTER network; (3) As mentioned previously, by the end of our planning grant the planning team will also work together to submit a proposal to the NSF Biocomplexity coupled human-natural systems competition. We anticipate that this proposal will also include other LTER sites and their representatives (NTL, CWT, HBES, PIE etc) who are not included in this small planning grant but with whom members of this team have coordinated in the past; (4) Finally, the two lead PI’s (Wilson and Childers) are also members and coauthors of a recently funded NCEAS working group titled, “LTER Ecosystem Services”, that will focus on the topic of ecosystem goods and services within the LTER network (Lead PI’s: Farber and Costanza); and we have discussed this planning grant proposal with said project leaders who are willing to coordinate their efforts with our team to achieve maximum synergy.