NSF News

New NSF Long-Term Ecological Research site will study dynamic and diverse relationships between urban nature and people

More than 800,000 people live in Minneapolis-St. Paul, also known as the Twin Cities. How do the region's residents interact with the ecosystem of which they're a part? Scientists affiliated with a new U.S. National Science Foundation-funded Long-Term Ecological Research, or LTER, site based in Minneapolis-St. Paul will examine how turmoil, socioeconomic disparities, pollution, habitat loss and climate change interact to affect the environment in the Twin Cities.

The $7 million, six-year renewable award will create a hub of research based at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, with the goal of deepening the understanding of the ecological processes in municipalities. That knowledge requires uninterrupted, long-term environmental data collection, analysis and interpretation.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul LTER site is the newest member of a network of 28 sites across the U.S. The program, begun in 1980, supports long-term research in ecosystems from grasslands to mountains, deserts to the open sea. All data collected at each site are publicly accessible so they can be used in research across the network and beyond.

"Climate change and socioeconomic disparities are two pressing issues of our time," said Joanne Tornow, NSF assistant director for biological sciences. "The importance of the new LTER site in examining the interface between the two, and expanding our understanding of urban ecology, cannot be overestimated. This award is another example of the value of the LTER program, a flagship effort at NSF that contributes to our understanding of ecosystems across the nation, and to the education of future generations of scientists and engineers through the LTER schoolyard ecology program and other efforts."

The new site will support 30 senior personnel at three universities, the USDA Forest Service and the Bell Museum to conduct research across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. The efforts will include creation of academic-community collaborations -- including new partnerships with minority communities -- to enable inclusive participatory research that recognizes and addresses the relevance of race, ethnicity, class and culture in social-ecological research, and produces results useful to all members of the metro area."

The research will improve the understanding of social-ecological responses to environmental and social changes that are as rapid as any in recent history; advance the knowledge of how ecological phenomena affect urban nature in the face of such changes; and test whether ecological theories, developed in non-urban ecosystems, can predict patterns in urban systems.

The partnership with the Bell Museum, Minnesota's official natural history museum, will include development of hands-on educational materials and displays; urban ecology field trips for diverse groups of middle school students; and workshops and toolkits to support teachers in applying science standards using outdoor activities. Other training and education efforts include research experiences for undergraduate students and training for graduate students and post-doctoral scientists.

More information about the NSF LTER program can be found on nsf.gov.