Long-Term Dynamics of the LTER Program: Evolving Definitions and Composition

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Jones, Julia A.; Nelson, Michael P. 2021. Long-Term Dynamics of the LTER Program: Evolving Definitions and Composition. In: The Challenges of Long Term Ecological Research: A Historical Analysis. 3.55-80. doi:https://doi.org/https://10.1007/978-3-030-66933-1


This chapter investigates how the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program has changed from 1980 to 2018. The LTER program is designed to balance persistence with response to change in science, society, and ecosystems through renewable 6-year grants subjected to peer review at the midterm and at renewal. The LTER program had an initial period of rapid growth with some terminations (1980s), a middle period of slower growth with no terminations (1990–2010), and a third period of no net growth, with added and terminated sites and an accelerated rate of site probations (2010s). Changes in the character and composition of the LTER program are associated with changes in leadership and research directions within individual LTER sites, as well as changes in the sources of funding for the LTER program within NSF, turnover in NSF program officers, and changes in review criteria used to renew LTER site funding. In the past decade, a focus on conceptual frameworks as a tool for integrating LTER research emerged from the LTER renewal review process. Given the accelerated pace of environmental change, the need for long-term ecological research is even more urgent today than when NSF established the pioneering LTER program. The LTER Program history reveals important lessons for how to structure and manage long-term ecological research.
Keywords: LTER program Long-term ecological research National Science Foundation NSF funding, Ecological networks Network management Site termination Site probation Conceptual frameworks