LTER Network Awarded 2010 Distinguished Scientist Award

June 24, 2010 — The Long Term Ecological Research Network, through which the University of Virginia conducts research on Virginia's Eastern Shore, is the recipient of the American Institute of Biological Sciences' 2010 Distinguished Scientist Award.

There are 26 LTER projects in the National Science Foundation-funded network. U.Va. runs the Virginia Coast Reserve LTER, focusing on long-term studies of barrier islands, coastal marshes and bay ecosystems.

The Distinguished Scientist Award – previously named the Distinguished Service Award,  – has been given annually since 1972 to individuals or groups who have made significant scientific contributions to the biological sciences. This year's award recognizes the scientific contribution of the LTER program on its 30th anniversary.

"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 worldwide," said Richard O'Grady, executive director of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. "The program and the scientists and students that have conducted research at LTER sites or with LTER data have fundamentally advanced human understanding."

The mission of the LTER Network is to provide the scientific community, policymakers and society with the knowledge and predictive understanding necessary to conserve, protect and manage the nation's ecosystems, their biodiversity and the services they provide. LTER projects are located across North America, from the North Slope of Alaska to the Florida Everglades, and also in Antarctica, Puerto Rico and French Polynesia.

U.Va.'s LTER project is based at the Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center, a state-of-the-art facility located on 42 acres in the town of Oyster, about 15 miles north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. It includes more than 9,400 square feet of dry and wet lab space, a 5,800-square-foot residence building and a dock for its fleet of four shallow water research vessels.

U.Va. has been conducting research through the LTER since 1986 with major support from the NSF, as well as various other research grants and private donations. Researchers from U.Va. and guest investigators from several other universities are studying long-term alterations to the coastal landscape, particularly related to global climate change and land-use change. What they are learning from past and present events can help them make predictions regarding future changes to coastal environments.

The project involves about 25 investigators and an equal number of graduate students, and provides summer internships to undergraduate and high school students.

U.Va.'s LTER research focuses on the barrier islands, lagoons, tidal marshes and watersheds of the 45,000-acre Virginia Coast Reserve, owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy. Because the area is largely undeveloped, the reserve is one of the best places on the East Coast for studying barrier island geology and coastal ecology.

Researchers at the Virginia Coast Reserve LTER are working to develop a predictive understanding of how climate and land use influence the dynamics of coastal barrier ecosystems. Scientists at the center monitor sea level rise, storm frequencies, groundwater flow rates, marsh growth and erosion, seagrass restoration, water chemistry, finned fish and shellfish populations, vegetation, and bird and mammal populations.

Robert B. Waide, executive director of the LTER Network and a biology professor at the University of New Mexico, said, "The award represents the cumulative efforts of more than 2,000 LTER scientists, students, information managers, educators and staff working on experiments and observational studies that will inform present and future understanding of ecological systems."

Since 1980, scientists in the LTER Network have conducted research to better understand long-term ecological phenomena in both natural and managed ecosystems. A broad variety of ecosystems are represented in the network, including tundra, forest, grassland, desert, agricultural, urban and marine sites, among others.

"One of the reasons for recognizing the LTER Network as a whole and not individual scientists or projects is that the high level of collaboration across the network allows LTER to do things that couldn't be done by individual scientists," said U.Va. environmental scientist John Porter, who has long conducted research at the Virginia Coast Reserve.

— By Fariss Samarrai