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Long-term environmental research networks are one approach to advancing local, regional, and global environmental science and education. A remarkable number and wide variety of environmental research networks operate around the world today. These are diverse in funding, infrastructure, motivating questions, scientific strengths, and the sciences that birthed and maintain the networks. Some networks have individual sites that were selected because they had produced invaluable long-term data, while other networks have new sites selected to span ecological gradients. However, all long-term environmental networks share two challenges. Networks must keep pace with scientific advances and interact with both the scientific community and society at large. If networks fall short of successfully addressing these challenges, they risk becoming irrelevant. The objective of this paper is to assert that the biogeosciences offer environmental research networks a number of opportunities to expand scientific impact and public engagement. We explore some of these opportunities with four networks: the International Long-Term Ecological Research Network programs (ILTERs), critical zone observatories (CZOs), Earth and ecological observatory networks (EONs), and the FLUXNET program of eddy flux sites. While these networks were founded and expanded by interdisciplinary scientists, the preponderance of expertise and funding has gravitated activities of ILTERs and EONs toward ecology and biology, CZOs toward the Earth sciences and geology, and FLUXNET toward ecophysiology and micrometeorology. Our point is not to homogenize networks, nor to diminish disciplinary science. Rather, we argue that by more fully incorporating the integration of biology and geology in long-term environmental research networks, scientists can better leverage network assets, keep pace with the ever-changing science of the environment, and engage with larger scientific and public audiences.


Daniel D. Richter1, Sharon A. Billings2, Peter M. Groffman3, Eugene F. Kelly4, Kathleen A. Lohse5, William H. McDowell6, Timothy S. White7, Suzanne Anderson8, Dennis D. Baldocchi9, Steve Banwart10, Susan Brantley11, Jean J. Braun12, Zachary S. Brecheisen1, Charles W. Cook1, Hilairy E. Hartnett13, Sarah E. Hobbie14, Jerome Gaillardet15, Esteban Jobbagy16, Hermann F. Jungkunst17, Clare E. Kazanski18, Jagdish Krishnaswamy19, Daniel Markewitz20, Katherine O'Neill21, Clifford S. Riebe22, Paul Schroeder23, Christina Siebe24, Whendee L. Silver25, Aaron Thompson26, Anne Verhoef27, and Ganlin Zhang28

1Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA
2Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Kansas Biological Survey, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA
3City University of New York, Advanced Science Research Center and Brooklyn College, Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, New York, NY, USA
4Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, CO, USA
5Department of Biological Sciences, Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID, USA
6Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, USA
7Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA
8Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and Dept. of Geography, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA
9Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California at Berkeley, CA, USA
10School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
11Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA
12Geosciences Environment Toulouse, Universite de Toulouse, Toulouse, FR and University of Yaounide, LIM DYCOFAC, IRD, Yaounde, Cameroon
13School of Earth and Space Exploration and School of Molecular Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA
14Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, USA
15Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, Institut Universitaire de France, Paris, France
16Grupo de Estudios Ambientales – IMASL, CONICET, and Universidad Nacional de San Luis, Argentina
17Institute for Environmental Sciences, University of Koblenz-Landau, Landau, Germany
18Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, USA
19Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bangalore, India
20Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA
21Environmental Studies, Roanoke College, Salem, VA, USA
22Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, USA
23Department of Geology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA
24Instituto de Geologia, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico
25Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
26Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA
27Department of Geography and Environmental Science, The University of Reading, Reading, UK
28State Key Laboratory of Soil and Sustainable Agriculture, Institute of Soil Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing 210008, China