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USDA Establishes National Watershed Research NetworkBy Sandy Miller Hays
September 10, 2012
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) today announced that it has established a Long Term Agro-ecosystem Research (LTAR) network from among its existing experimental watersheds and rangelands nationwide to address large-scale, multi-year research, environmental management testing and technology transfer related to the nation's agricultural ecosystems. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.
"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 USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics Ann Bartuska.
ARS maintains approximately 22 watersheds and experimental range research sites nationwide, with sites in 15 states. Some of the ARS experimental watershed research sites date to 1912, while others were established as recently as 2007. The initial LTAR network will include 10 of these sites, with more sites to be added later. The 10 sites chosen are affiliated with ARS research units located at Ames, Iowa; Cheyenne, Wyo.; Columbia, Mo.; El Reno, Okla.; Las Cruces, N.M.; Mandan, N.D.; Pullman, Wash.; Tifton, Ga.; Tucson, Ariz.; and University Park, Pa.. ARS will be seeking partnerships in network research, as well as in development or selection of additional sites, with universities, other federal agencies and other 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 utilized 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.