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Universities Hope to Become Part of Observation Network

August 4, 2008

By Mark Vierthaler, Journal-World, Lawrence, Kan.

Aug. 4–No one is quite sure how the world’s ecosystems are changing.

A new program, however, is aiming to fix that.

Nature preserves at Kansas University and Kansas State University are potential candidates for a fledgling observation network on how global changes affect the Earth’s ecosystem.

Leonard Krishtalka, a professor in KU’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute, had worked with K-State professor John Blair during the past several months to make the K-State Konza Prairie Biological Station a potential core site and the KU Field Station and Ecological Reserves, or KSR, a candidate satellite site for the National Ecological Observatory Network.

NEON is a research cooperative that will span the continental United States as well as Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. According to NEON’s Web site, by using different networks throughout its 20 sites, researchers would be able to study the effects that variables such as climate, air pollution and soil characteristics have on various ecosystems.

Krishtalka said it was important to note that the sites were only potential and had not been officially chosen. The sites are pending approval by Congress and the National Science Foundation, which oversees the project.

K-State’s Konza reserve would serve as the anchor site for the NEON prairie zone, while KU’s reserves could possibly be the secondary station. According to the KSR Web site, the mix of deciduous forest and tallgrass prairie makes it an ideal location for field-based environmental research.

Krishtalka said NEON would prove beneficial for KU researchers, faculty and students because it would give them a chance to participate in a continent-wide project monitoring different environments.

“It will involve every type of science, too,” he said. “Up until this point, a great deal of ecosystem research was a cottage industry. This is your industrial-strength approach.”

Krishtalka said it most likely would be several years before NEON was ready to fully begin its research.

Scott Campbell, associate director of KSR, said that if the reserve was selected as the satellite site, it would place KU in one of the top global ecological research areas.

“It’s very exciting,” he said. “It’s a very big deal.”

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