Virginia, September 22, 2004 (ENS): A new national
ecological network is in the works that will allow scientists
to predict changes in the nation's ecosystems and their
consequences just as the U.S. network of meteorological
stations allows forecasters to predict changes in the
Work on the National Ecological Observatory Network
(NEON) is advancing. When complete, it will be the first
national ecological observation system designed to answer
scientific questions at regional and continental scales
to enable ecological forecasting.
Bruce Hayden, an ecologist at the University of Virginia
and principal investigator for the project, along with
William Michener, associate director of the National
Science Foundation's Long Term Ecological Research Network,
will direct the NEON project office at the American
Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) headquarters
in Washington, D.C.
With a two year, $6 million cooperative agreement from
the National Science Foundation, the institute will
set up a NEON Design Consortium and Project Office to
develop a blueprint for the network and a plan for its
NEON is envisioned as field and lab instrumentation
deployed across the United States. Plans call for it
to be integrated via cyberinfrastructure into a continent
wide research platform.
"Once built, NEON will transform ecological research."
said Mary Clutter, the assistant director of the directorate
for biological sciences. "It will create new collaborative
environments - bringing together ecologists, engineers,
social, physical, computer, and earth scientists - to
investigate ecological phenomena that span large geographical
areas and long periods of time."
Liz Blood, National Science Foundation program director
for NEON, says, "The most pressing challenges facing
the nation's biosphere - the impact of climate change
on forests and agriculture, the emergence and spread
of infectious diseases, and the causes and consequences
of invasive species - result from complex interactions
between human, natural and physical systems.
"These systems are large spatially, change over
time, and cross all levels of biological organization,"
she said. "To better understand them and forecast
biological change, ecologists need a new tool to study
the structure and dynamics of ecosystems in the United