Ecological forecasting soon to join weather forecasting

ARLINGTON, 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 weather.

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 implementation.

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 States."

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