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Map of the 26 Long Term Ecological Research sites. The Arctic LTER site in Alaska (ARC), Palmer Station site in Antarctica (PAL) and Plum Island Ecosystem site in Massachusetts (PIE) are based at the Ecosystems Center.

Many LTER Scientists Honored by American Institute of Biological Sciences Award

The Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) network received the 2010 Distinguished Scientist Award from the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). The award is presented annually for significant scientific contributions to the biological sciences. While this award is usually presented to an individual, this year’s was made to the LTER network as a whole. Recent recipients include Simon Levin, Stephen J. Gould, Jane Lubchenco and Paul Ehrlich.

The Ecosystems Center is the base of three LTER projects - the Arctic program at Toolik Lake in Alaska, Plum Island Sound in northeastern Massachusetts, and Palmer Station in Antarctica - and home to several scientists on a fourth LTER at Harvard Forest in northern Massachusetts.

The 26 LTER sites in the network concentrate on ecological processes that play out at time scales spanning seasons to centuries. Long-term data sets from LTER provide a context to evaluate the nature and pace of ecological change, to interpret its effects, and to forecast the range of future biological responses to change. The geographic distribution of sites ranges from Alaska to Antarctica and from the Caribbean to French Polynesia. Twenty of the 26 sites are in the lower 48 states.

In announcing the award, AIBS said, “AIBS is pleased to recognize the contributions of the LTER network in this, its 30th anniversary year,” said Dr. Richard O'Grady, AIBS Executive Director. “A shining example of excellence in our nation's scientific enterprise, the LTER program focuses on large-scale, multi-disciplinary research and has truly transformed ecological and environmental science in the U.S. and world-wide. The program and the scientists and students that have conducted research at LTER sites or with LTER data have fundamentally advanced human understanding.”

The National Science Foundation (NSF) instituted the LTER program with a call for proposals in 1980 that resulted in the selection of six sites. The Ecosystems Center received funding for the Arctic LTER in 1987, and Plum Island Sound LTER in 1998. The Palmer Station LTER, originally funded in 1990, moved to the center in 2007 when its lead investigator, Hugh Ducklow, became Ecosystems Center director. While not the home base for the Harvard Forest LTER, which originated in 1988, several center scientists including Jerry Melillo have been instrumental in Harvard Forest research.

The Arctic LTER, headed by John Hobbie and Gus Shaver, studies the ecology of the tundra, streams and lakes of the North Slope of Alaska in order to predict and understand the effects of the area’s rapidly changing climate. Ducklow and other scientists at the Palmer Station LTER also study the effects of climate warming, focusing on the links between climate change, the melting of sea ice and the effects on the Antarctic marine ecosystem.

The goal of the Plum Island LTER project, led by Anne Giblin, is to understand the long-term response of watershed and estuarine ecosystems to changes in climate, land use and sea level. It is one of only four LTERs that studies the effects of human activities in watersheds on estuaries. Harvard Forest’s LTER, led by David Foster of Harvard University, focuses on effects of natural and human disturbances on forest ecosystems. These disturbances include atmospheric pollution, global warming, hurricanes, tree falls, and insect outbreaks.

Accepting the Distinguished Scientist Award on behalf of the LTER Network was Dr. G. Philip Robertson, professor of ecosystem science at Michigan State University and chairman of the LTER Network. Upon learning of the award, Robertson said: "We are both grateful for and humbled by this high honor, which recognizes the collective contributions of several thousand Network scientists working to advance ecological knowledge in ecosystems facing unprecedented environmental change."