USDA Establishes National Watershed Research Network

10/13/2012 7:00 AM

WASHINGTON — The USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has established the Long Term Agro-ecosystem Research (LTAR) network from among its existing experimental watersheds and rangelands nationwide to address large-scale, multiyear research, environmental management testing and technology transfer related to the nation’s agricultural ecosystems.

The ARS research unit in University Park, Pa., is among the initial 10 sites forming the network

“This national network of agro-ecosystem research will aid our understanding and forecasting of the nation’s capacity to provide agricultural and other ecosystem-related goods and services under changing environmental conditions, in addition to society’s changing demands on natural resources,” said Ann Bartuska, USDA deputy undersecretary for research, education and economics.

ARS maintains about 22 watersheds and experimental range research sites nationwide, with sites in 15 states. Some of the ARS experimental watershed research sites date to 1912. Others were established as recently as 2007.

In addition to the Pennsylvania site, the initial network will include ARS research units at Ames, Iowa; Cheyenne, Wyo.; Columbia, Mo.; El Reno, Okla.; Las Cruces, N.M.; Mandan, N.D.; Pullman, Wash.; Tifton, Ga.; and Tucson, Ariz..

ARS will be seeking partnerships in network research — as well as in development or selection of additional sites — with universities and other federal agencies and interested parties.

“This network will further strengthen ARS’ established, significant investment in long-term research to enhance agricultural sustainability, including our Benchmark Experimental Research Watershed and Experimental Range sites located in the nation’s 10 major agro-ecosystems,” said ARS Administrator Edward B. Knipling. “ARS’ long-term research sites, projects and databases represent invaluable platforms on which to test our understanding and ability to manage emerging issues in agricultural sustainability.”

The LTAR network will interact and collaborate with other national ecological research networks, such as the National Science Foundation’s already operational Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) network with 26 sites nationwide, the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) now being developed by the National Science Foundation and NEON Inc, and the USDA Forest Service network of Experimental Forests and Ranges.

The LTAR network can provide data that can be used in the development of innovative management systems that increase the resilience of agricultural ecosystems in the face of rapid environmental and socioeconomic change, and can help assess the environmental and societal impacts of different agricultural practices and land uses within a particular landscape.

Information from LTAR also can contribute to the development of agricultural production systems that maximize energy conservation and reduce greenhouse gases, while investigating various forms of incentives to encourage on-farm adoption and mitigation, and optimize biodiversity to conserve and protect natural resources while enhancing agricultural profitability.

The national approach to be used in LTAR will allow scientists to investigate important research questions against a wide range of environmental conditions, include episodic events such as pest and pathogen outbreaks, detect important but slow-acting phenomena such as changes in soil carbon, climate and land use, and calibrate and validate the models used to forecast such changes.

As a whole, the network will seek to address complex scientific questions about long-term processes on a regional or national scale that cannot be addressed by individual locations.

Source: Sandy Miller Hays, USDA Agricultural Research Center.

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