Long Term Ecological Research (LTER)

prepared by Sean Perry

What is LTER?

LTER stands for “long term ecological research” and involves research and analysis conducted on ecological issues that exist for large periods of time and occupy vast geographical areas. A network of 6 LTER sites was created by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1980 to help document and analyze ecological change over an extensive amount of time. The number of LTER sites has now grown to 26, spanning from Alaska to the Caribbean, with two additional sites in Antarctica.

LTER Sites

Andrews Experimental Forest:USDA USFS, Oregon State University
Arctic LTER site: University of Alaska
Baltimore Ecosystem Study: USDA USFS, University of Maryland
Bonanza Creek: USDA USFS, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Boreal Ecology Cooperative Research Unit
California Current: University of California, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve: University of Minnesota
Central Arizona-Phoenix: Arizona State University
Coweeta: USDA USFS, University of Georgia
Florida CoastalEverglades: Florida International University
Georgia Coastal Ecosystems: University of Georgia Marine Institute
Harvard Forest: USDA USFS, US Environmental Protection Agency, Harvard University
Hubbard Brook: USDA USFS
Jornada Basin: USDA ARS, New Mexico State University
Kellogg Biological Station: Michigan State University
Konza Prairie: The Nature Conservancy, Kansas State University
McMurdo Dry Valleys:
Moorea Coral Reef: University of California Santa Barbara, California State University Northridge
Niwot Ridge: University of Colorado at Boulder
North Temperate Lakes: Center for Limnology
Palmer Antarctica: Columbia University
Santa Barbara Coastal LTER: University of California Santa Barbara, Marine Science Institute
Sevilleta: The University of New Mexico, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Shortgrass Steppe: USDA USFS Pawnee National Grassland, USDA ARS, Colorado State University, Central Plains Experimental Range, Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station
Virginia Coast Reserve: University of Virginia, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the Nature Conservancy
All sites are supported by the National Science Foundation.


The information gained from LTER research can benefit the health, productivity, and well-being of the global environment. Specifically, the information helps predict future biological responses to change, provide additional data on important issues such as climate change, and makes evaluation of the pace on ecological change possible. Examples would include data about human impacts on land, such as with the research being done in the Andrews Forest LTER in the Pacific Northwest, where thousands of acres of old-growth forest were cut down in the past for timber production. At this site, data is being collected on how the forest is recovering from the cutdown by looking at the stages of tree structure, vegetation composition and spatial heterogeneity of the forest. Another example is of the research being done in Alaska at the Arctic LTER site. At this site, data is being collected on the shrinking amount of permafrost due to rising global temperatures and how this affects the global atmosphere, since permafrost holds massive amounts of carbon.

Unique Components of LTER

1) The research is located at specific sites chosen to represent major ecosystem types or natural biomes
2) It emphasizes the study of phenomena over long periods of time, based upon data collection in five core areas: primary production, population studies, movement of organic matter, and movement of inorganic matter
3) Projects include significant integrative, cross-site, network-wide research
As provided by: http://www.lternet.edu/network/

Jornada Basin LTER

The Jornada Basin LTER exists near the southern New Mexico city of Las Cruces. It was established in 1982 to investigate desertification processes in the Chihuahuan desert. According to their website, significant progress has been made in understanding these processes. Specifically, research has been done on vegetation trends in 5 different habitats within the Chihuahuan desert: black grama grassland (Bouteloua eriopoda), creosotebush scrub (Larrea tridentata), mesquite duneland (Prosopis glandulosa), tarbush shrublands (Flourensia cernua)and playa. Another research focus has been on soil development within the Jornada Basin and Range. Studies have been done on alluvial materials that exist in broad valleys between parallel mountain ranges. These kinds of valleys exist not only in the basin and range, but throughout Arizona, Nevada and into the Mojave Desert of California.

Website: http://jornada-www.nmsu.edu/

Andrews Forest LTER

Located in the western Cascade mountains of Oregon, the Andrews Forest LTER was one of the original 6 LTER sites created by the National Science Foundation in 1980. It was originally established as an experimental forest by the US Forest Service in 1948 when most of the old- growth forest still existed. Throughout the years, research focus has ranged from old-growth harvest to the function and structure of forest ecosystems. Currently, research is being done on the ecological response of forests to land use, climate change, and natural disasters.

Website: http://andrewsforest.oregonstate.edu/

ILTER: International Long Term Research Network

In addition to the U.S. LTER, the ILTER was established in 1993 to promote global long-term ecological research. The network consists of forty member networks from countries that span the globe, such as Brazil, South Africa, and Mongolia. The governing body of ILTER meets annually at a meeting hosted by one of the member networks.

Link to ILTER network locations:http://www.ilternet.edu/member-networks

SAEON (South Africa)-http://www.saeon.ac.za/

Brazilian LTER-http://www.icb.ufmg.br/peld/

Hövsgöl ILTER (Mongolia)-http://asia.ansp.org/hovsgol/LTER.html

Published Examples Using LTER Data

  • Redman, Charles L., J. Morgan Grove, and Lauren H. Kuby (2004). Integrating Social Science into the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network: Social Dimensions of Ecological Change and Ecological Dimensions of Social Change. Ecosystems, 7(2), 161-171. DOI: 10.1007/s10021-003-0215-z

This article is about the integration of the social science into the LTER network and looks at the the “social dimensions of ecological change”.

  • Brazel, Anthony, Nancy Selover, Russell Vose, and Gordon Heisler (2000). Understanding urban climates: The tale of two climates—Baltimore and Phoenix urban LTER sites. Climate Research, 15, 123-135. DOI: 10.3354/cr015123.

The article analyzes the effects of urban areas on the local climate as the cities of Baltimore and Phoenix increase in size and population each year. Data that is used spans from 1900 to 2000.

  • Childers, D. L. (2006). A synthesis of long-term research by the Florida Coastal Everglades LTER Program. Hydrobiologia, 569(1), 531-544. DOI: 10.1007/s10750-006-0154-8.

This paper is a summary of all research conducted in the Florida Everglades over a 5-6 year time period. Research subjects included: use of organic matter in the ecosystem, understanding estuaries, and the dynamics of aquatic food webs.

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