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LTER Core Topics

LTER Core Research Areas:

At each site in the LTER Network, research is organized by that site’s own questions and themes. However, all sites perform research in five core areas, in order to assure that inter-comparisons can be done.

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  1. Primary Production – Plant growth in most ecosystems forms the base or “primary” component of the food web. The amount and type of plant growth in an ecosystem helps to determine the amount and kind of animals (or “secondary” productivity) that can survive there.
  2. Population Studies – A population is a group of organisms of the same species. Like canaries in the coal mine, changes in populations of organisms can be important indicators of environmental change.
  3. Movement of Organic Matter – The entire ecosystem relies on the recycling of organic matter (and the nutrients it contains), including dead plants, animals, and other organisms. Decomposition of organic matter and its movement through the ecosystem is an important component of the food web.
  4. Movement of Inorganic Matter – Nitrogen, phosphorus, and other mineral nutrients are cycled through the ecosystem by way of decay and disturbances such as fire and flood. In excessive quantities nitrogen and other nutrients can have far-reaching and harmful effects on the environment.
  5. Disturbance Patterns – Disturbances often shape ecosystems by periodically reorganizing structure, allowing for significant changes in plant and animal populations and communities.