Title ‘From Microbes to Macrosystems: Understanding the Response of Ecological Systems to Global Change Drivers and Their Interactions’

Sponsor: National Science Foundation


Overview: The Harvard Forest LTER (HFR) is a thirty‐year‐strong integrated research and educational program dedicated to understanding how New England forests function and respond to natural and human forces. The heart of the program is an interdisciplinary group of PI scientists, research technicians, post‐doctoral fellows, and graduate and undergraduate students from dozens of universities who pursue site‐to‐regional scale studies that integrate four approaches: long‐term measurements; large, long‐term experiments; retrospective studies; and prospective modeling. HFR research tests fundamental ecological hypotheses that advance ecological theory and answer applied questions of broad societal relevance.

Intellectual Merit: The goal of HFR LTER VI is to apply knowledge and capacity developed during LTER I to V to understand and predict the impacts of global change on temperate forest from site to regional scales. The integrated research plan is designed to understand forest ecosystem responses to (i) the increasing magnitude and variability of climate change and climatic extremes, (ii) the proliferation of invasive insects that are selectively removing tree species, and (iii) the modern land‐use regime including the variable rates, intensities, and distribution of forest harvesting, land conversion, land protection, and agriculture. Recent syntheses of HFR long‐term observational and experimental studies identified key knowledge gaps that require further research and data collection to achieve the project goal. In response, the research plan establishes several new initiatives, including: (i) a multi‐constraints approach for scaling observations of primary production, from leaf‐level physiological measurements, to eddy flux estimates from multiple towers, and site‐to‐satellite‐based observations, which collectively will constrain simulations of regional carbon exchange; (ii) a belowground carbon observation network, enhanced by radiocarbon dating and analyzed with new tools and models, designed to reduce the uncertainty regarding long‐term change in forest carbon stocks and fluxes; (iii) aquatic and soil microbial measurements within declining hemlock forests infested by the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid, which will complement long‐term aboveground observations and advance a generalizable understanding of population, community and nutrient cycling responses to invasive insects; and (iv) the expansion of a coupled spatial modeling framework, independently calibrated and validated with long‐term observations, and designed to simulate stakeholder‐defined land‐use scenarios and the interactive effects of multiple global change drivers on New England forest composition, function, and services.

Broader Impacts emphasize the translation of HFR science for management and decision‐making at landowner, local, state, and national scales through collaborations with the Science Policy Exchange, Highstead Foundation, and the Wildlands and Woodlands regional conservation initiative. Regional engagement will utilize the network of 42 Regional Conservation Partnerships and their >500 partner organizations, agencies, and municipalities that Highstead has developed with support from HFR. In four sub‐regions on a rural‐urban gradient, HFR’s climate and land‐use change scenarios research will be utilized to engage diverse stakeholder entities, to tailor products for their specific decision context, and to develop an interactive web‐based scenario exploration tool that will be rolled out regionally. HFR will continue its: (i) award‐winning Schoolyard Program, which engages >3,000 students in >50 schools in hands‐on ecological data collection and analysis using HFR CoI‐designed curricula; (ii) summer undergraduate research program and graduate student and post‐doctoral engagement in HFR; (iii) 25‐year‐old Keystone Project that trains community leaders using three‐day intensive workshops in natural resources and stewardship; (iv) programs to evaluate the impact of its engagement strategies on attitudes and outcomes for scientists and the public. Finally, HFR will develop two new synthesis volumes in the LTER publication series.