Twenty-eight research sites constitute the LTER Network at present. The geographic distribution of sites ranges from Alaska to Antarctica and from the Caribbean to French Polynesia and includes agricultural lands, alpine tundra, barrier islands, coastal lagoons, cold and hot deserts, coral reefs, estuaries, forests, freshwater wetlands, grasslands, kelp forests, lakes, open ocean, savannas, streams, and urban landscapes. Each site develops individual research programs in five core areas:
- Pattern and control of primary production;
- Spatial and temporal distribution of populations selected to represent trophic structure;
- Pattern and control of organic matter accumulation in surface layers and sediments;
- Patterns of inorganic inputs and movements of nutrients through soils, groundwater and surface waters; and
- Patterns and frequency of site disturbances.
Andrews Forest (AND)
The Andrews Forest is situated in the western Cascade Range of Oregon in the 15,800-acre (6,400-ha) drainage basin of Lookout Creek, a tributary of the Blue River and the McKenzie River. Elevation ranges from 1,350 feet (410 m) to 5,340 feet (1630 m). Broadly representative of the rugged mountainous landscape of the Pacific Northwest, the Andrews Forest contains excellent examples of the region’s conifer forests and associated wildlife and stream ecosystems. The research program has been diverse throughout the history of the Forest, with the dominant themes changing over the years. Today, several dozen university and federal scientists use this LTER site as a common meeting ground, working together to gain basic understanding of ecosystems and to apply this new knowledge in management policy.
The Arctic LTER research site is in the foothills region of the North Slope of Alaska and includes the entire Toolik Lake Watershed and the adjacent watershed of the upper Kuparuk River, down to the confluence of these two watersheds. This area is typical of the northern foothills of the Brooks Range, with continuous permafrost, no trees, a complete snow cover for 7 to 9 months, winter ice cover on lakes, streams, and ocean, and cessation of river flow during the winter. Tussock tundra is the dominant vegetation type but there are extensive areas of drier heath tundra on ridge tops and other well-drained sites as well as areas of river-bottom willow communities. The North Slope is divided into the Coastal Plain (6,000 km²), the Foothills (95,000 km²), and the Mountains (40,000 km²).
Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES)
The Baltimore Ecosystem Study aims to understand metropolitan Baltimore as an ecological system. The program brings together researchers from the biological, physical, and social sciences to collect new data and synthesize existing information on how both the ecological and engineered systems of Baltimore work. As a part of the National Science Foundation’s LTER Network, they also seek to understand how Baltimore’s ecosystems change over long time periods. The ecological knowledge we create helps support educational and community-based activities, and interactions between the project and the Baltimore community are important components of our project. Such an integrative project includes many disciplines and many research and educational institutions, both in Baltimore and beyond.
Bonanza Creek (BNZ)
The Bonanza Creek LTER program is located in the boreal forest of interior Alaska, USA. The facilities are centered in the city of Fairbanks. Research at this LTER site focuses on improving the understanding of the long-term consequences of changing climate and disturbance regimes in the Alaskan boreal forest. The overall objective is to document the major controls over forest dynamics, biogeochemistry, and disturbance and their interactions in the face of a changing climate. The site was established in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1987 as part of the National Science Foundation’s LTER Program.
Central Arizona–Phoenix (CAP)
The Central Arizona–Phoenix LTER is one among a network of 26 LTER projects funded by the National Science Foundation to monitor and assess long-term ecological change in diverse ecosystems in the United States. Researchers from Arizona State University (ASU) and a wide range of local partners have established a comprehensive, forward-looking program in the Phoenix metropolitan area of central Arizona, a setting that offers unique scientific opportunities and is of broad relevance for urban planning. CAP LTER personnel represent ASU, ASU-West, ASU-Polytechnic, ASU-Downtown Phoenix, and numerous community organizations, research centers, and government agencies outside ASU.
California Current Ecosystem (CCE)
The California Current Ecosystem is a coastal upwelling biome, as found along the eastern margins of all major ocean basins. These are among the most productive coastal ecosystems in the world ocean. The CCE sustains active fisheries for a variety of finfish and marine invertebrates, modulates weather patterns and the hydrologic cycle of much of the western United States, and plays a vital role in the economy of myriad coastal communities.
Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve (CDR)
The Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, established in 1940, was designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service in 1975. In 1977 it was included as an Experimental Ecology Reserve in a proposed national network, and in 1982 it was 1 of 11 sites in the United States selected by the National Science Foundation for funding of Long Term Ecological Research.
The Coweeta LTER program investigates the consequences to the southern Appalachian socio-ecological system of the interaction between changing climate and land use expected to change profoundly in the next five decades. Their research extends long-term measurements, field experiments and interdisciplinary modeling from small watershed studies to regional-scale analyses to account for increases in resource demand and competition from adjacent and more distant areas. The focus is on the provisioning service of water quantity, the regulating service of water quality, and the supporting service of maintaining biodiversity.
Florida Coastal Everglades (FCE)
Most of the Florida Coastal Everglades LTER sites are located in freshwater marsh, estuarine mangroves, and seagrass estuary ecosystems in Everglades National Park. Everglades National Park covers approximately 4,300 km² of south Florida and is part of the greater Everglades ecosystem which extends north to Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River. Their research focuses on understanding ecosystem processes along the two major drainage basins in Everglades National Park: Shark River Slough and Taylor Slough. They are particularly interested in the dynamics at the estuarine ecotone, where freshwater and estuarine wetlands meet. This ecotone is dynamic in the landscape in response to changing freshwater inflow (with Everglades restoration), sea level rise (climate change responses), and disturbance (particularly hurricanes and fire).
Georgia Coastal Ecosystems (GCE)
The Georgia Coastal Ecosystems LTER site, located on the central Georgia coast, was established in 2000. The study domain encompasses three adjacent sounds (Altamaha, Doboy, Sapelo) and includes upland (mainland, barrier islands, marsh hammocks), intertidal (fresh, brackish and salt marsh), and submerged (river, estuary, continental shelf) habitats.
Harvard Forest (HFR)
The Harvard Forest is located in a rural setting in north-central Massachusetts about 70 miles west of Boston. The 1,200-ha site lies in the Transition Hardwood-White Pine-Hemlock forest region, and includes a variety of forests and wetlands. Research at the Forest focuses on effects of natural and human disturbances on forest ecosystems. These disturbances include atmospheric pollution, global warming, hurricanes, treefalls, and insect outbreaks. Facilities include laboratories for nutrient analysis, physiological and population ecology, isozyme and pollen analysis; greenhouses; herbarium; computer laboratory; library; and a museum.
Hubbard Brook (HBR)
The Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (HBEF) is a 3,160-ha reserve located in the White Mountain National Forest, near Woodstock, New Hampshire. The on-site research program is dedicated to the long-term study of forest and associated aquatic ecosystems. The HBEF was established by the USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station in 1955 as a major center for hydrologic research in New England. In 1963, the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study (HBES) was initiated to use the small watershed approach at Hubbard Brook to study linkages between hydrologic and nutrient flux and cycling in response to natural and human disturbances, such as air pollution, forest cutting, land-use changes, increases in insect populations and climatic factors. The first grant was awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1963 to support the research of the HBES. Since that time there has been continuous support from the NSF and the USDA Forest Service. In 1988 the HBEF was designated as a Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site by the NSF. On-going cooperative efforts among diverse educational institutions, private institutions, government agencies, foundations and corporations have resulted in one of the most extensive and longest continuous data bases on the hydrology, biology, geology and chemistry of natural ecosystems.
Jornada Basin (JRN)
The overall goal of the Jornada Basin LTER program is to quantify the key factors and processes that control ecosystem dynamics and biotic patterns in Chihuahuan Desert landscapes. These landscapes are representative of many arid and semiarid ecosystems of the world where dramatic changes in vegetation structure and ecosystem processes have occurred over the past several centuries. These changes in ecosystem state are often interpreted as “desertification,” the broad-scale conversion of perennial grasslands to dominance by xerophytic woody plants and the associated loss of soils and biological resources, including biodiversity. The JRN LTER has been investigating desertification processes since 1982. Significant advances in understanding the causes and consequences of desertification have been made at specific spatial scales and for certain environmental conditions.
Kellogg Biological Station (KBS)
The Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) LTER, located in southwest Michigan, investigates how diverse plants, animals, and microbes in agricultural landscapes can contribute to farm productivity, environmental performance, and profitability. KBS LTER research is directed towards two global questions (1) Can agronomic management based on ecological knowledge effectively substitute for chemical subsidies – without sacrificing high yields; and (2) To what extent can we harvest ecosystem services other than yield from these systems. With almost 50% of the contiguous U.S. under agricultural management, an important goal of KBS research is to better understand both the services provided by agricultural landscapes and their value, in order to use ecosystem services as a basis for farm management and policy.
The focal site for the Konza Prairie LTER program is the Konza Prairie Biological Station (KPBS). KPBS is a 3,487-ha native tallgrass prairie field research station owned by The Nature Conservancy and Kansas State University. KPBS is located in the Flint Hills region of northeastern Kansas (39°05’N, 96°35’W). The Flint Hills encompasses over 50,000 km² throughout much of eastern Kansas from near the Kansas-Nebraska border south into northeastern Oklahoma and contains the largest remaining area of unplowed tallgrass prairie in North America. The vegetation at KPBS is primarily (>90%) native tallgrass prairie, dominated by perennial C4 grasses, but numerous sub-dominant grasses, forbs and woody species contribute to its high floristic diversity.
LTER Network Communications Office
Filling many of the roles formerly provided by the LTER Network Office, the University of California, Santa Barbara began working with the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network in October 2015 to coordinate and support cross-network communication and outreach, synthesis research, education and training. The new LTER Network Communications Office is operated by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), and is actively transitioning into its’ new role as the first LTER Network Communications Office (NCO).
The Luquillo Experimental Forest (LEF) has been a center of tropical forestry research for nearly a century. In addition, the LEF is a recreation site for over a half a million people per year, a water supply for approximately 20% of Puerto Rico’s population, a regional center for electronic communication, and a refuge of Caribbean biodiversity. It is the goal of the USDA Forest Service and the University of Puerto Rico to promote and maintain the Forest’s role as a center of active and dynamic scientific inquiry. However, to maintain the ecological integrity of the Forest while balancing the many demands placed upon it’s resources, certain protocol is required. This guide provides the major protocols that govern research in the LEF. These protocols are designed to help researchers protect the forests, obey the law, create an amiable and non-discriminatory work environment, and provide a historical record for future scientists.
McMurdo Dry Valleys (MCM)
The McMurdo Dry Valleys are located on the western coast of McMurdo Sound (77°00’S 162°52’E) and form the largest relatively ice-free area (approximately 4,800 km²) on the Antarctic continent. These ice-free areas of Antarctica display a sharp contrast to most other ecosystems in the world, which exist under far more moderate environmental conditions. The perennially ice-covered lakes, ephemeral streams and extensive areas of exposed soil within the McMurdo Dry Valleys are subject to low temperatures, limited precipitation and salt accumulation. Thus, the dry valleys represent a region where life approaches its environmental limits, and is an “end-member” in the spectrum of environments included in the LTER Network.
Moorea Coral Reef (MCR)
The Moorea Coral Reef LTER is located on the island of Moorea 15 km northwest of the main island of Tahiti, French Polynesia. Moorea is a high, 1.2-million-year-old volcanic island surrounded by a well-developed coral reef and lagoon system. The science themes that form the nucleus of the Moorea Coral Reef LTER program include the: (1) biological bases for variation in ecological performance of stony corals (the foundational group); (2) population dynamics of key groups; (3) food web and nutrient dynamics; and (4) maintenance and functional consequences of diversity. Two additional research components cut across these themes: (a) an explicit focus on physical – biological coupling over multiple scales; and (b) physical and ecological models to synthesize field results and obtain generality. Identified issues within each thematic area will be explored through focused, process-oriented studies and by long-term experiments and monitoring of key abiotic conditions, ecosystem functions, and community and population attributes of major functional groups.
Niwot Ridge (NWT)
Niwot Ridge (40°3’N, 105°36’W) is located approximately 35 km west of Boulder, Colorado, with the entire study site lying above 3,000 m elevation. There is a cirque glacier, extensive alpine tundra, a variety of glacial landforms, glacial lakes and moraines, cirques and talus slopes, patterned ground, and permafrost. The research area is bounded on the west by the Continental Divide, with runoff on the two sides being destined for the Colorado and Mississippi Rivers.
North Temperate Lakes (NTL)
Lakes are conspicuous, ecologically important, and socially valued components of landscapes. Lakes collect water, energy, solutes and pollutants from the land and atmosphere, provide habitats and resources for organisms, and interact with diverse human activities. The North Temperate Lakes LTER program aims to understand the ecology of lakes in relation to relevant atmospheric, geochemical, landscape and human processes. Our overarching research question is “How do biophysical setting, climate, and changing land use and cover interact to shape lake characteristics and dynamics over time (past, present, future)?”
Palmer Station (PAL)
The Palmer LTER, established in the fall 1990, is one of the National Science Foundation-sponsored LTER sites funded by the NSF Office of Polar Programs. It focuses on the pelagic marine ecosystem along the west Antarctic Peninsula, and the ecological processes which link the extent of annual sea ice to the biological dynamics of different trophic levels. Sea ice may is the major physical factor affecting the structure and function of polar biota. Interannual cycles and/or trends in the annual extent of pack ice are hypothesized to impact all levels of the food web, from total annual primary production to breeding success in seabirds. The Antarctic Peninsula region is experiencing the most rapid climate warming on the planet with large and rapid reductions in sea ice cover and corresponding responses at all levels of the food chain.
Plum Island Ecosystem (PIE)
The Plum Island Ecosystems LTER is an integrated research, education and outreach program whose goal is to develop a predictive understanding of the long-term response of watershed and estuarine ecosystems at the land-sea interface to changes in climate, land use and sea level. The principal study site is the Plum Island Sound estuary, its coupled Parker, Rowley and Ipswich River watersheds and the adjacent coastal ocean, the Gulf of Maine. The PIE LTER focuses on how several aspects of global change influence organic matter and inorganic nutrient biogeochemistry and estuarine foodwebs. The inputs of organic matter and nutrients from land, ocean and marshes interact with the external drivers (climate, land use, river discharge, sea level) to dictate the extent and degree of nutrient and organic matter processing and determine the spatial patterns of estuarine productivity and trophic structure.
Santa Barbara Coastal (SBC)
The Santa Barbara Coastal LTER is located in the coastal zone of southern California near Santa Barbara. It is bounded by the steep east-west trending Santa Ynez Mountains and coastal plain to the north and the unique Northern Channel Islands archipelago to the south. Point Conception, where the coast of California returns to a north to south orientation, lies at the western boundary, and the Santa Clara River marks its eastern edge. The site lies on the active boundary of the Pacific Oceanic Plate and the North American Continental Plate. High levels of tectonic activity have created dramatic elevation gradients in both the terrestrial and the underwater landscapes of the site. The Santa Barbara Channel includes some of the deepest ocean basins known on the continental shelf along with remarkable submarine canyons and escarpments.
The Sevilleta LTER Project is located about 80 km south of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in and around the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The Refuge, which is managed by the US Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, and its surroundings, are positioned at the intersection of several major biotic zones: Chihuahuan Desert grassland and shrubland to the south, Great Plains grassland to the north, Piñon-Juniper woodland in the upper elevations of the neighboring mountains, Colorado Plateau shrub-steppe to the west, and riparian vegetation along the middle Rio Grande Valley.
Virginia Coast Reserve (VCR)
Research activities of the VCR LTER focus on the mosaic of transitions and steady-state systems that comprise the barrier-island/lagoon/mainland landscape of the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Primary study sites are located on Hog Island, Parramore Island and mainland marshes near Nassawadox VA. The VCR LTER uses field laboratory and housing facilities at the Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center in Oyster, VA.