The Spatial Sampling Design of NEON Terrestrial Field Sites


How do plants and animals respond to
environmental disturbances and changes in climate? Rising average annual temperatures or changes in rainfall patterns may influence the timing of flowering for plant species in a region. These changes can have a ripple effect on interacting species in the ecosystem, like pollinators that depend on the flowers and fruit. A change in a species trait can be a bellwether for changes in the biodiversity of the ecosystem as a whole. Scientists from the National
Ecological Observatory Network, or NEON, are collecting regular observations of
rainfall, plants, insects, birds, and much more at field sites across the United
States as part of an ambitious program designed to provide researchers with
unprecedented amounts of ecological data to better study our ecosystems and
forecasts how they will change over time. From monitoring population and community dynamics of organisms, to measuring fluxes of carbon, water, and energy between terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere, to mapping changes in land surface characteristics, the National Science Foundation’s NEON collects data at 47 terrestrial field sites across the United States to gain a comprehensive picture of ecosystem function. Terrestrial sites are also co-located
with NEON’s freshwater aquatic sites, whenever possible to enable the complimentary study of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Terrestrial field site characteristics and size vary considerably, from one of the smallest field sites at Lajas Experimental Research Station at only 3.95 square kilometers, to the much larger Santa Rita Experimental Range field site, that spans an impressive 215 square kilometers. NEON uses three standardized and
complementary data collection systems. Observational field sampling, automated
instruments, and airborne remote sensing. All three systems are standardized
across field sites, while automated instruments and remote sensing are routinely calibrated and tested. This all contributes to a more accurate and detailed picture of ecosystem function and change on a local, regional, and
continental scale. To get a better idea of this let’s walk through the integrated spatial sampling design of a terrestrial field site. In the dominant vegetation, a meteorological tower rises above the plant canopy. This tower collects measurements of weather and climate including fluxes of carbon, water, and energy between terrestrial ecosystems
and the atmosphere. At each tower an upland area captured by the atmospheric measurements is defined as the tower air shed. Where there is more than one prevailing wind direction there can be a secondary air shed too. Phenocams mounted on the top and bottom of the tower and typically facing north, collect time-lapse photos of the nearby environment throughout the year. Over time this imagery data will reveal trends related to the greening of vegetation at each site. An array of five soil plots is installed within the tower air shed. Sensors in the soil array collect above-ground meteorological data and below ground soil measurements to allow for research on biogeochemical processes. Soil data are collected at multiple depths and include temperature, soil moisture, and CO2 concentration. NEON establishes observational sampling plots throughout the tower air shed and distributed observational sampling plots
stratified across the vegetation types of the site. Using standardized protocols
NEON scientists collect observations of soil microbes, ground beetles, mosquitoes, ticks, plants, birds, and small mammals at these plots. These data include individual traits, population dynamics, and the composition of organismal communities. A subset of organisms are sampled for pathogens and DNA sequences. NEON field scientists also collect biogeochemical data of plants and soils. In addition to observational sampling, NEON archives thousands of specimens and samples from each site every year. This includes biological, genomic, and geological samples that are stored in the NEON Biorepository, and are available for scientists upon request. NEON also takes to the skies conducting
airborne remote sensing surveys. Using discrete and waveform lidar,
spectrometry data, and high-resolution digital camera images, NEON scientists
map the land surface of each field site providing information about vegetation
composition, chemistry, and structure. NEON’s standardized methods and
collection systems allow for users to compare data within a single field site
and across multiple field sites to answer more complex ecosystem questions. For example, using NEON data we can study the changing characteristics and
composition of mosquito populations at a field site in relation to meteorological
data and remote sensing derived vegetation biomass maps. We can then apply these data to how mosquito populations are moving between sites. This will result in improving our ability to detect and predict the
movement of mosquito species into new ecosystems. So from the sky down into the
soil, NEON is collecting a wide variety of ecological data at different spatial
and temporal scales. Automated measurements happen every second of the day in the tower air shed. Weekly field sampling covers a much broader area and NEON’s annual remote sensing surveys collect landscape scale data. Visit NEONScience dot org to learn more.

Comments 1

  • I was listening to this video and it spoke to me. Literally the voice resonated deep inside me. I mean the mushrooms that my dog commanded me to eat might have helped, but I still felt something very real.

    I'd like to set the scene: it's 11pm, I am wearing my normal duster and green fedora (with the red feather). I start this video on my nokia, I shuffle over to the bed in my car, slipping off my Crocs and let my argyle socks taste the sweet moonlight of the world, sitting down on the pile of dirty clothes on my bed I realized, in that moment, we have to fight for our planet and this is a step in the right direction. There might come a day when a grown man can't marry his love pillow because of the earth being in total chaos. I cant live in that world legally, I don't want to be apart of that.

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