Scientists from Across the Country Want to Emulate MSU’s Long-term Research Success

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Phil Robertson, director of the MSU LTER project. (view larger image)

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then researchers associated with the Michigan State University Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site at the Kellogg Biological Station should feel flattered indeed.

A paper in the July/August issue of the journal BioScience calls for the United States to use the internationally known MSU LTER site as a model for agricultural research and set up a network of LTER-like sites across the country. Typically, agricultural research projects are funded for 2 to 3 years.

“After more than 20 years of successful research at MSU and other LTER sites, many in agriculture are recognizing the substantial value of long-term interdisciplinary work at a single location and are suggesting that a network of agricultural sites could help to address many of the important challenges facing agriculture today,” said Phil Robertson, MAES crop and soil sciences researcher, who serves as director of the MSU LTER project. “Basically, scientists from around the country are asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] to create a network of sites like MSU‘s.”

The national LTER network, funded by the National Science Foundation, is made up of 26 sites studying ecology and environmental biology to provide a better understanding of the ecology of both natural and managed systems. The MSU site, established in 1988, is the only site in the network to focus on agriculture. Research at the MSU LTER site looks at how biodiversity—plants, animals and microbes in agricultural landscapes—contributes to farm productivity, environmental performance and profitability. The site attracts researchers from all over the world and is available to any scientist with a legitimate research interest.

Robertson, one of the paper’s 17 authors, said there is widespread appreciation for the research being done at the MSU LTER site, as well as the realization that one site can’t possibly encompass the diversity of U.S. agriculture. The BioScience paper is based on a white paper prepared for the USDA that calls for the establishment of a long-term agricultural research network.

“I’ve long said that having only one LTER site devoted to agriculture is a bit narrow- minded,” he explained. “What we really need is a network, not just one or even two sites. We hope this paper will stimulate interest in both long-term agricultural research and the network concept in the same way that papers 25 years ago stimulated interest in LTER. And there are indications that the USDA is listening—I’ve heard that an initial competition may be announced yet this year.”

In addition to the National Science Foundation, research at the MSU LTER site is also supported by the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station.

A copy of the paper “Long-term Agricultural Research: A Research, Education and Extension Imperative” is available online.

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