skip to main content

Title: Connectivity: insights from the U.S. Long Term Ecological Research Network
Ecosystems across the United States are changing in complex and surprising ways. Ongoing demand for critical ecosystem services requires an understanding of the populations and communities in these ecosystems in the future. This paper represents a synthesis effort of the U.S. National Science Foundation-funded Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network addressing the core research area of “populations and communities.” The objective of this effort was to show the importance of long-term data collection and experiments for addressing the hardest questions in scientific ecology that have significant implications for environmental policy and management. Each LTER site developed at least one compelling case study about what their site could look like in 50–100 yr as human and environmental drivers influencing specific ecosystems change. As the case studies were prepared, five themes emerged, and the studies were grouped into papers in this LTER Futures Special Feature addressing state change, connectivity, resilience, time lags, and cascading effects. This paper addresses the “connectivity” theme and has examples from the Phoenix (urban), Niwot Ridge (alpine tundra), McMurdo Dry Valleys (polar desert), Plum Island (coastal), Santa Barbara Coastal (coastal), and Jornada (arid grassland and shrubland) sites. Connectivity has multiple dimensions, ranging from multi-scalar interactions in space to complex interactions more » over time that govern the transport of materials and the distribution and movement of organisms. The case studies presented here range widely, showing how land-use legacies interact with climate to alter the structure and function of arid ecosystems and flows of resources and organisms in Antarctic polar desert, alpine, urban, and coastal marine ecosystems. Long-term ecological research demonstrates that connectivity can, in some circumstances, sustain valuable ecosystem functions, such as the persistence of foundation species and their associated biodiversity or, it can be an agent of state change, as when it increases wind and water erosion. Increased connectivity due to warming can also lead to species range expansions or contractions and the introduction of undesirable species. Continued long-term studies are essential for addressing the complexities of connectivity. The diversity of ecosystems within the LTER network is a strong platform for these studies. « less
Authors:
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; more » ; ; ; ; ; ; ; « less
Award ID(s):
1637708
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10231412
Journal Name:
Ecosphere
Volume:
12
Issue:
5
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
e03432
ISSN:
0046-1237
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. abstract Coastal ecosystems play a disproportionately large role in society, and climate change is altering their ecological structure and function, as well as their highly valued goods and services. In the present article, we review the results from decade-scale research on coastal ecosystems shaped by foundation species (e.g., coral reefs, kelp forests, coastal marshes, seagrass meadows, mangrove forests, barrier islands) to show how climate change is altering their ecological attributes and services. We demonstrate the value of site-based, long-term studies for quantifying the resilience of coastal systems to climate forcing, identifying thresholds that cause shifts in ecological state, and investigating the capacity of coastal ecosystems to adapt to climate change and the biological mechanisms that underlie it. We draw extensively from research conducted at coastal ecosystems studied by the US Long Term Ecological Research Network, where long-term, spatially extensive observational data are coupled with shorter-term mechanistic studies to understand the ecological consequences of climate change.
  2. abstract In this article marking the 40th anniversary of the US National Science Foundation's Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network, we describe how a long-term ecological research perspective facilitates insights into an ecosystem's response to climate change. At all 28 LTER sites, from the Arctic to Antarctica, air temperature and moisture variability have increased since 1930, with increased disturbance frequency and severity and unprecedented disturbance types. LTER research documents the responses to these changes, including altered primary production, enhanced cycling of organic and inorganic matter, and changes in populations and communities. Although some responses are shared among diverse ecosystems, most are unique, involving region-specific drivers of change, interactions among multiple climate change drivers, and interactions with other human activities. Ecosystem responses to climate change are just beginning to emerge, and as climate change accelerates, long-term ecological research is crucial to understand, mitigate, and adapt to ecosystem responses to climate change.
  3. Coastal ecosystems are rapidly changing due to human-caused global warming, rising sea level, changing circulation patterns, sea ice loss, and acidification that in turn alter the productivity and composition of marine biological communities. In addition, regional pressures associated with growing human populations and economies result in changes in infrastructure, land use, and other development; greater extraction of fisheries and other natural resources; alteration of benthic seascapes; increased pollution; and eutrophication. Understanding biodiversity is fundamental to assessing and managing human activities that sustain ecosystem health and services and mitigate humankind’s indiscretions. Remote-sensing observations provide rapid and synoptic data for assessing biophysical interactions at multiple spatial and temporal scales and thus are useful for monitoring biodiversity in critical coastal zones. However, many challenges remain because of complex bio-optical signals, poor signal retrieval, and suboptimal algorithms. Here, we highlight four approaches in remote sensing that complement the Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (MBON). MBON observations help quantify plankton functional types, foundation species, and unique species habitat relationships, as well as inform species distribution models. In concert with in situ observations across multiple platforms, these efforts contribute to monitoring biodiversity changes in complex coastal regions by providing oceanographic context, contributing to algorithm and indicator development,more »and creating linkages between long-term ecological studies, the next generations of satellite sensors, and marine ecosystem management.« less
  4. abstract

    Long-term observations and experiments in diverse drylands reveal how ecosystems and services are responding to climate change. To develop generalities about climate change impacts at dryland sites, we compared broadscale patterns in climate and synthesized primary production responses among the eight terrestrial, nonforested sites of the United States Long-Term Ecological Research (US LTER) Network located in temperate (Southwest and Midwest) and polar (Arctic and Antarctic) regions. All sites experienced warming in recent decades, whereas drought varied regionally with multidecadal phases. Multiple years of wet or dry conditions had larger effects than single years on primary production. Droughts, floods, and wildfires altered resource availability and restructured plant communities, with greater impacts on primary production than warming alone. During severe regional droughts, air pollution from wildfire and dust events peaked. Studies at US LTER drylands over more than 40 years demonstrate reciprocal links and feedbacks among dryland ecosystems, climate-driven disturbance events, and climate change.

  5. 1. Climate change is projected to cause shifts in precipitation regimes globally, leading to intensified periods of precipitation and droughts. Most studies that have explored the influence of changing precipitation regimes on ecosystems have focused on changes in mean annual precipitation, rather than the variance around the mean. Soil fungi are ubiquitous organisms that drive ecosystem processes, but it is unknown how they respond to long-term increased interannual precipitation variability. 2. Here, we investigated the influence of long-term increased precipitation variability and host type on soil fungal diversity and community composition in a dryland ecosystem. We collected 300 soil samples from two time points and different host type substrate types at a long-term precipitation variability experiment at the Jornada Long Term Ecological Research site. Next, we used amplicon sequencing to characterize soil fungal communities. 3. Soil fungal alpha diversity and community composition were strongly affected by host type and sampling year, and increased precipitation variability caused a modest, statistically insignificant, decrease in soil fungal evenness. Furthermore, results from our structural equational model showed that the decrease in grass-associated soil fungal richness was likely an indirect result of host decline in response to increased precipitation variability. 4. Synthesis. Our work demonstratesmore »effects of increase in interannual precipitation variability on soil fungi, and that plant hosts play a key role in mediating soil fungal responses.« less