In 1995, the Royal Society of Canada established an expert panel on Long-Term Ecological Research and Monitoring (LTERM), which produced a report1 called “Looking ahead: long-term ecological research and monitoring in Canada”. A highlight of this report was the recommendation that a national LTERM program should be given the highest priority. The panel based their recommendation on 3 main conclusions. Long-term ecological research results in: (1) increased understanding of ecosystem functioning, which leads to better resource management; (2) improved early warning of undesirable trends in ecosystem behaviour, including effects of environmental change; and (3) early tests of the effectiveness of strategies for long-term resource management. In the preface of this report, the panel stated it hoped to influence “the young scientists who will have to live with the consequences of current LTERM funding”.
More recently, Hughes et al. provided a 4th rationale for long-term research: it contributes disproportionately to both ecology and policy2. LTERM is more highly cited by other researchers, and there is a positive relationship between LTERM content and journal impact factor. Furthermore, Hughes et al. showed that US National Research Council authors disproportionately cite LTERM when summarizing information for decision makers.
Although the recommendations of the Royal Society of Canada panel on LTERM were not pursued, and no LTERM sites have been established in the intervening years, long-term ecological research has persisted in Canada through the fortitude of individuals, the establishment of informal, collaborative networks, and the shifting support of various levels of government. This is not an efficient or effective approach for implementing long-term research and monitoring.
The Royal Society report also recommended, among other things, that a network of LTERM sites be established across Canada; that consideration be given to representativeness, and both spatial and temporal scale; that LTERM sites be located in both wilderness and managed landscapes; and that LTERM data be accessible to a variety of users and decision makers, all elements implying some co-ordination among sites. Today, we recognize that there are already many informally established, and invaluable, LTERM sites and researchers across the country, existing outside of the co-ordinated network imagined by the Royal Society. The absence of such a network reduces the productivity and societal impacts of Canada’s long-term studies. We suggest that many of the aims of the Royal Society panel could be achieved through harnessing these existing LTERM programs, by providing support to improve co-ordination among programs, encouraging collective opportunities, and formalizing the network of researchers and sites. The formation of such an interdisciplinary, investigator-led network is also consistent with recommendations arising from Canada’s recent science review3. As such, we propose to establish a formal network of Long-Term Ecological Research and Monitoring in Canada.
1Canadian Global Change Program. 1995. Looking ahead: long-term ecological research and monitoring in Canada. The Royal Society of Canada, Technical Report No. 95-1.
2Hughes, B.B., et al. 2017. Long-term studies contribute disproportionately to ecology and policy. Bioscience 67: 271-281
3Canada’s Fundamental Science Review. 2017. Investing in Canada’s future: strengthening the foundations of Canadian research. Advisory Panel for the Review of Federal Support for Fundamental Science.