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Supporting global impact science

TERN’s ability to support Australian science communities in undertaking global impact science has been strengthened thanks to recent collaborations on the world ecological stage.

TERN’s Collaborations and Partnerships Director, Associate Professor Nikki Thurgate, was invited to attend the International Long-Term Ecological Research (ILTER) Coordinating Committee Meeting in Italy last month as Australia’s delegate. The ILTER meeting was run parallel with the 13th European Ecological Federation (EEF) Conference, which had a theme of ‘Ecology at the Interface’. At the combined meetings Nikki met with the leading lights of long-term ecological research from more than 25 countries.

Both ILTER and EEF share a common vision with TERN: holistic, multi-disciplinary, collaborative approaches to answer key ecosystem questions. All articulated that to achieve this the research community needs access to research infrastructure that enables the underpinning science for healthy ecosystems and that long-term data was needed to permit ecosystem change to be diagnosed, understood and responded to.

“I was struck by how the language of ecology and ecosystem science is changing,” says Nikki. “Globally there is now recognition of the need for common infrastructure and comparable, long-term data streams. There are networks of networks appearing across the globe and a key challenge for all of them is how we can best work together.”

One of the key outcomes of the meetings in Italy was discussion of ways to create strategies for global studies.  Nikki says that during these discussions it became clear that TERN’s ecosystem research infrastructure is an international model for successful collaborative research infrastructure platforms.

“It was apparent that TERN is leading the way globally in its holistic and comprehensive approach to ecosystem research and data infrastructure,” says Nikki.

One such ‘global linkages’ project discussed at the meetings was a new initiative being coordinated by the Japanese Long Term Ecological Research Network into excessive increases in nitrogen levels in natural environments all around the globe—a key global and regional environmental issue.

The initiative, called ILTER-N, is conducting global comparisons on key research topics on nitrogen pollution issues in ecosystems.  Key to these comparisons is the availability of long-term field observation data from many long-term ecological research (LTER) sites situated in various climates and biomes.

In 2016 TERN will play a vital role in the study by contributing data collected at TERN sites Australia-wide. Data contributed by TERN facilities, including OzFlux and the Australian SuperSite Network, will allow Australia’s unique ecosystems to be compared to global systems to assess whether or not excess Nitrogen the is harming the environment.

Global studies facilitated by TERN infrastructure like this are placing Australia in a global context and allowing us to answer questions of critical concern.

The infrastructure links formed at such international meetings enables TERN to facilitate higher impact ecosystem science research in Australia. By 2025 we envisage that international linkages will be fully formed across the full breadth of TERN capabilities to examine ecosystem change in a global context across all terrestrial ecosystems.

Nikki left the symposium again this year with a fistful of business cards, and, of equal importance, a positive outlook for the future of ecosystem science in Australia and abroad. 

Published in TERN Newsletter December 2015

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