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SAEON Fynbos Node participates in LTER All Scientists Meeting


The ILTER ecosystem services group at the All Scientists Meeting (Photo: David Blankman)


Ecosystems provide services that are both cultural and utilitarian.  A Paulshoek woman makes a mat for her daughter's wedding using local reeds (Photo by Dr Nicky Allsopp)


Dr Nicky Allsopp (left) and Victoria Goodall in Estes Park for the All Scientists Meeting of the ILTER (Photo courtesy of SAEON Fynbos Node)


Victoria Goodall, Data Manager & Nicky Allsopp, Manager: SAEON Fynbos Node
In September 2009, Dr Nicky Allsopp and Victoria Goodall attended the LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) All Scientists Meeting held in Estes Park in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado, USA.  

Dr Allsopp had been invited to participate in an international comparison on ecosystem services and Victoria Goodall attended at the invitation of the LTER Information Management Network.

The USA LTER network comprises 26 sites and is the oldest formal observation network established. Sites range from the Tundra to the tropical swamps of Florida and cover marine, freshwater and terrestrial systems. Agricultural and urban sites are now also part of the network as the interface between humans and their environments has gained more prominence in recent years. Interest has also increased in more recent years in the interactions between ecosystem services, ecosystems dynamics and human outcomes and behaviour. This has led to the development of the LTER strategic initiative “Integrative Science for Society and the Environment”.

A Framework for Integrating Social, Economic and Ecological Drivers of Ecosystem Services

A group representing sites in Scotland, Finland, France, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Rumania, Israel, Japan, USA, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Malawi and South Africa worked together to identify the main ecosystems services at their sites, the interactions between ecosystem services, the drivers of change, the direction of this change and the resilience of the systems. 

We worked under the guidance of Patrick Bourgeron (USA), Manuel Maass (Mexico) and Jacques Baudry (France) in unravelling the often complex interactions between drivers, human behaviour and responses, state of the ecosystem and ecosystem services. The methodology used allowed for the identification of complex interactions and cascade effects where, for example, actions quite removed from the study site may be influencing the state of the ecosystem.  

Paulshoek, in Namaqualand, served as the South African example. The Paulshoek study site, one of the most intensively studied socio-ecological systems in South Africa, was set up in the mid-1990s through the vision of Prof Timm Hoffman.  Long-term records of livestock numbers, climate, cropping, plant phenology and vegetation state and composition have been complemented by a multitude of studies on the ecology of the system and people’s use of natural resources.

Data Management for LTER

Information Management was one of the key focus areas of the conference, with a number of working groups focusing on data management as well as a dedicated Information Management meeting day. Some of the working groups dealt with topics such as EML (Ecological Metadata Language), data management for hydrological research, training in data management and data synthesis.

Taking Data Management beyond the realm of data storage

A working group at the meeting discussed the EcoTrends project, a US based project designed to promote and enable the use and synthesis of long-term data to enable analysis into the trends in the earth’s ecosystems.

The project is a collaborative effort between a number of state and national institutions and agencies with a goal of making data accessible, analyzable and comparable. In most cases, datasets are unique and the raw data from different datasets is awkward to merge with other similar datasets.

The EcoTrends team has worked to get over 1 200 datasets synthesized in a way that enables cross-dataset and cross-site analysis. This allows for the interrogation of these data in a way that provides insight into the changing global environment. EcoTrends has an open data policy corresponding to SAEON’s policy on making data available. From their website, the public can download the synthesized data and metadata, as well as link back to the original raw datasets. Some basic summary statistics and trends are provided for all of the datasets.

The answer to a number of scientific questions does not necessarily need more data collection. Plenty of extremely valuable datasets already exist and time, money and effort have already been spent to collect these data. One of the challenges of Data Management is to unearth the value in existing data and make the data available to researchers.

In addition to the workshops to which Nicky and Victoria were invited, there were ample opportunities to learn more about the US LTER network through plenary talks, focused workshops, the more than 450 posters and informal discussions over mealtimes. The beautiful backdrop of the Rocky Mountains around the Estes Park conference centre further contributed to an atmosphere which made the LTER All Scientist Meeting a very productive and informative event.


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