Resilience: insights from the U.S. LongTerm Ecological Research Network

Jane C Ditmer, Laura Templeton, John J. Battles, Peter J. Edmunds, Robert C. Carpenter, Stephen R. Carpenter, Michael Paul Nelson, Natalie L. Cleavitt, Timothy J. Fahey, Peter M. Groffman, Joe H. Sullivan, Maile C. Neel, Gretchen J.A. Hansen, Sarah Hobbie, Sally J. Holbrook, Clare E. Kazanski, Eric Seabloom, Russell J. Schmitt, Emily H. Stanley, Alan J. TepleyNatalie S. van Doorn, Jake M. Vander Zanden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Ecosystems are changing in complex and unpredictable ways, and analysis of these changes is facilitated by coordinated, long-term research. Meeting diverse societal needs requires an understanding of what populations and communities will be dominant in 20, 50, and 100 yr. This paper is a product of a synthesis effort of the U.S. National Science Foundation funded Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network addressing the LTER core research area of populations and communities. This analysis revealed that each LTER site had at least one compelling story about what their site would look like in 50 or 100 yr. As the stories were prepared, themes emerged, and the stories were grouped into papers along five themes for this special issue: state change, connectivity, resilience, time lags, and cascading effects. This paper addresses the resilience theme and includes stories from the Baltimore (urban), Hubbard Brook (northern hardwood forest), Andrews (temperate rain forest), Moorea (coral reef), Cedar Creek (grassland), and North Temperate Lakes (lakes) sites. The concept of resilience (the capacity of a system to maintain structure and processes in the face of disturbance) is an old topic that has seen a resurgence of interest as the nature and extent of global environmental change have intensified. The stories we present here show the power of long-term manipulation experiments (Cedar Creek), the value of long-term monitoring of forests in both natural (Andrews, Hubbard Brook) and urban settings (Baltimore), and insights that can be gained from modeling and/or experimental approaches paired with long-term observations (North Temperate Lakes, Moorea). Three main conclusions emerge from the analysis: (1) Resilience research has matured over the past 40 yr of the LTER program; (2) there are many examples of high resilience among the ecosystems in the LTER network; (3) there are also many warning signs of declining resilience of the ecosystems we study. These stories highlight the need for long-term studies to address this complex topic and show how the diversity of sites within the LTER network facilitates the emergence of overarching concepts about this important driver of ecosystem structure, function, services, and futures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere03434
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the National Science Foundation Long term Ecological Research program grants to the Baltimore (Grant DEB 1027188), Cedar Creek (DEB 1234162), Moorea (1637396), Hubbard Brook (DEB 1114804), North Temperate Lakes (DEB 0217533 and DEB 1440297), and Andrews (1440409) LTER sites. The authors thank Matt Gillespie and Maribeth Rubenstein for help with editing and compiling the diverse components of the manuscript.

Funding Information:
The capacity of ecological science to provide societally relevant information on ecosystem change is greatly facilitated by the presence of research and monitoring networks, and coordinated, long‐term studies and networks of sites date back to the 1960s (Golley 1996 ). One of the longest running networks, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Long‐Term Ecological Research (LTER) network, is a group of long‐term site‐based research projects aimed at understanding ecological processes in a wide range of ecosystems. The LTER network began in 1980, with roots in earlier network efforts such as the International Biosphere Program (Callahan 1984 ). LTER sites were chosen in a competitive process based on fundamental ecological questions requiring the ideas, investigators, and sites to study long‐term phenomena using a blend of experiments, monitoring, modeling, and comparative studies, as opposed to being selected to cover the range of major ecosystem types or natural biomes, or to collect a synchronized set of monitoring data. LTER sites do carry out integrative, cross‐site, network‐wide research, and data collection at each site is organized around five core research areas: primary production, population studies, movement of organic matter, movement of inorganic matter, and disturbance patterns.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors.


  • Special Feature: Forecasting Earth’s Ecosystems with Long-term Ecological Research
  • coral reefs
  • experimental manipulations
  • grasslands
  • northern hardwood forest
  • rain forest
  • temperature
  • urban forest


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