A world threatened by extreme weather, invasive species, emerging disease and increasing uncertainty needs the scientific capacity to face those challenges.
- A world threatened by extreme weather, invasive species, emerging disease and increasing uncertainty needs the scientific capacity to face those challenges.
Natural laboratories across the country, which have been placing researchers on the front lines of understanding and managing environmental change for a century, form the building blocks of that capacity.
Lacawac Sanctuary located in Lake Ariel has been a field station and nature preserve since 1966, and is a long-time member of the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS). The OBFS and National Association of Marine Laboratories released a report on March 18 showing how scientists in communities across the continent respond to emerging questions in flexible and nimble ways, and are poised to work together to contribute to global solutions. Lacawac will be an important part of this effort.
Field stations and marine labs (FSMLs) are the primary places scientists go to study environmental processes in their natural context, and as such they harbor the knowledge of the past that we need to predict the future. They host thousands of individual researchers at hundreds of locations, and are the birthplace of many of the innovations and discoveries that drive environmental science today. Recent large-scale initiatives, such as the National Ecological
Observatory Network (NEON) and the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), as well as the longer-running Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network, depend on existing FSML infrastructure—and the novel insights these new observatories generate will stimulate complementary research at many more field stations and marine labs.
However, only a small fraction of FSMLs participates in these broader-scale scientific initiatives. NEON and LTER represent 10% of the available long-term, place-based, multiple-investigator environmental research sites. The report “Field Stations and Marine Laboratories of the Future: A Strategic Vision,” based on a national workshop and survey and on input from the broader scientific community, recommends creating a Network Center to catalyze broader-scale science and to facilitate participation in coordinated environmental efforts. For example, a stronger network of FSMLs could contribute to evolving national and international programs such as the sustained National Climate Assessment or the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network.
Lacawac Sanctuary has a long-standing tradition of being involved in large-scale ecological initiatives. The field station provides a physical facility for ecological observatory network science and runs annual workshops such as LEOW (Lacawac Ecological Observatory Workshop, in the spring) and LEC (Lacawac Ecology Conference, in the fall) to bring faculty and student researchers together around key ecological issues. Lacawac is also working towards becoming a national hub for observatory science by promoting and facilitating high quality training, research, and scholarly interaction in the development and application of advanced ecological sensors to understand environmental processes ranging from the local to the regional and global scales.
Field stations and marine labs have the flexibility and the logistical and intellectual capacity to support novel experimental approaches across tremendous ecological diversity. Collectively, they represent billions of dollars of investment in research infrastructure including sites (forests, fields and waterfronts) and tools (sensors, ships and cyberinfrastructure), and have trained generations of environmental scientists. This report is a first step in making sure the nation's investment in field stations and marine labs continues to meet the dynamic and changing needs of scientists, students, and the public they serve.