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Summer Research Project 2018

  • Title: Group Project (Cross LTER-site): Implications of land-use history on biodiversity at co-located National Ecological Observatory Network and Long Term Ecological Research Network sites
  • Summer Supervisors: John Grady; Sydne Record
  • Researchers: David Foster; John Grady; Sydne Record
  • Project Description:

    The National Science Foundation funds two flagship ecological networks that span the United States, the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network and the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). The strength of the LTER network lies in its long-term records of ecological change and manipulative experiments that provide insights into the mechanisms underpinning ecological systems. The network of NEON sites recently began data collection with a key strength of implementing standardized data collection across sites to enable detection of cross-continental ecological patterns in a systematic fashion. There are many potential synergies between the LTER and NEON networks (e.g., This REU project will explore one of these potential synergies.

    The rich historical record of ecological systems at LTER sites co-located with NEON sites provides an opportunity to contextualize knowledge gleaned from NEON data. Lasting ecological legacies may result from a site’s land-use history (Foster et al. 2003). For example, retrospective studies at Harvard Forest, which was established as an LTER site in 1988 and is the core Northeast Domain site of NEON, have the capacity to provide greater inference from NEON organismal data. Detailed studies of ownership deeds, temporal trends in forest cover and type, stonewalls, barbed wire used to contain livestock, and soil plow horizons at the Prospect Hill Tract of Harvard Forest in New England reveal that the modern forest present at the site today is a consequence of 250 years of land use (Foster 1992). These land use histories not only affect tree species age and composition, but also may make sites more susceptible to invasion by non-native plant species (DeGasperis & Motzkin 2007) and alter soil C:N ratios (Compton et al. 1998). It is only with a rich history of land-use thanks to the long term records at Harvard Forest that researchers are able to contextualize the data gathered by NEON.

    There will be two REU students working on this project with researchers from two LTER sites, Harvard Forest and Kellogg Biological Station. This project presents a unique opportunity for undergraduates to perform a cross-LTER synthesis and to become involved in the LTER network with exposure to NEON early in their careers. The student selected to work at Harvard Forest for this project will be mentored by Sydne Record with additional mentoring by John Grady, a postdoctoral fellow in the Record Lab. Both Sydne and John will be based at HF for the summer. The student selected to work at Michigan State University will be co-mentored by Dr. Phoebe Zarnetske and doctoral student Beth Gerstner who both perform research at the Kellogg Biological Station. More information on that position (2018 Undergraduate Summer Research: Land-use Change Effects on Biodiversity) can be found at . Details on how to apply to the Michigan State position can be found here:

    The students selected for this project will reconstruct land-use histories of co-located LTER and NEON sites, link land-use history data to NEON organismal plot data, and explore how heterogeneity or homogeneity of land-use across a LTER-NEON site influences organismal data collected by NEON. The students will analyze NEON and land use data using the R statistical software package and ArcGIS, and will present his/her research findings in the end-of-summer research symposium. There will be opportunities for the students to develop independent projects that can be extended into a year-long independent project or senior thesis work. On average, the students can expect to spend the majority of the time doing work on the computer (e.g., searching online materials, working with spatial data, data analysis) and on the phone (e.g., contacting sources at LTER sites, assessor’s offices, etc.). We will have weekly Harvard Forest-Michigan State University team meetings using video conferencing to keep all project members up to date on progress and to expose students to the nature of long-distance collaborative work across a distributed scientific network. If the HF student desires some field experience there may rare opportunities to assist with field work in the Harvard Forest Megaplot as needed on another project mentored by Sydne Record.

    General requirements
    The student working on this project must:
    1. Be willing to spend many hours on the computer analyzing data;
    2. Be willing to coordinate meetings with and call by phone or video conferencing relevant contacts for reconstructing site histories;
    3. Have, or be willing to develop, a basic understanding of Excel, ArcGIS, and R for graphical and statistical analysis;
    4. Be willing to coordinate and contribute to weekly video conferencing meetings with the Michigan State team.

  • Readings:

    Compton, J.E., Boone, R.D., Motzkin, G., and Foster, D.R. 1998. Soil carbon and nitrogen in a pine-oak sand plain in central Massachusetts: role of vegetation and land-use history. Oecologia, 116:536-542.

    DeGasperis, B.G. and Motzkin, G. 2007. Windows of opportunity: historical and ecological controls on Berberis thunbergii invasions. Ecology, 88(12):3115-3125.

    Foster, D.R. 1992. Land-use history (1730-1990) and vegetation dynamics in Central New England, USA. Journal of Ecology, 80(4):753-771.

    Foster, D.R., Swanson, F., Aber, J., Burke, I., Brokaw, N., Tilman, D., and Knapp, A. 2003. The importance of land-use legacies to ecology and conservation. Bioscience, 53(1):77-88.

  • Research Category: Historical and Retrospective Studies, Group Projects, Biodiversity Studies