Transformative Science at the LTER

One of the main reasons the Coweeta Listening Project (CLP) began writing our regular column was that it was made clear to us that community members did not have a good sense of what the Coweeta Long-Term Ecological Research Project has accomplished since it started in 1980. In this column, we want to take the opportunity to mention, in a straightforward way, the sorts of “transformative” science that has been accomplished over the decades within your community.

• Controlling plant invaders: Coweeta researchers have analyzed invasive plants in forests across 25 U.S. states and demonstrated that activities to control these invaders in critical areas where they grow particularly well can help reduce their abundance across the entire landscape.

• Predicting regional climate: Coweeta researchers have used more than 75 years of climate data from weather stations across Southern Appalachia to document that changes in temperature and rainfall are best predicted by changes in the patterns of ocean currents in the North Atlantic.

• Clean water and land markets: Coweeta researchers have established that the impact of clean water on land values in Southern Appalachia is a function of regular market forces rather than policy decisions, demonstrating that markets are sensitive to changes in environmental quality.

• Climate change and habitat: Southern Appalachia is a global hotspot for lungless salamander diversity. Coweeta researchers have found that every climate change scenario for the region has projected habitat declines for lungless salamanders, drawing attention to the critical link between climate change and future amphibian populations.

• Future nitrogen cycling: Drawing on two decades of research, Coweeta researchers discovered that warmer temperatures increase peak nitrate loading to forest streams during the growing season. These findings suggest that climate warming will triple the nitrogen export from forests, reducing water quality and long-term forest productivity.

• Forest biodiversity: Coweeta researchers have analyzed 26,000 trees across 268,000 tree years to show that hundreds of competing species can coexist in a forest because environmental limitations are spread across numerous individual plants. This represents the first strong evidence of “high dimensional biodiversity regulation.”

• Scaling-up to the catchment: Coweeta researchers have used more than 75 years of vegetation data to pioneer new approaches for talking about whole watersheds. They linked long-term data to scientific models to characterize the forest effects of natural disturbance and human management and the implications for ecosystem services such as carbon cycling and water supply.

As always, we would appreciate hearing other questions from you related to the science that has been done through the Coweeta LTER as well as science you think would be valuable to do.


This column is produced by members of the Coweeta Listening Project (CLP), a branch of the Coweeta Long Term Ecological Research Program. Views expressed here are not representative of the USDA Forest Service or the Coweeta Hydrologic Lab. Please share questions, comments, or suggestions for future topics at or Coweeta Listening Project, UGA, 210 Field St., Room 204, Athens, Georgia 30602.


Original Citation: Coweeta Listening Project. The Franklin Press. Column on "Science, Public Policy, Community." Page B8. November 22, 2013.