LTER VII was led by John Blair (PI) with Co-PI support from David Hartnett, Sara Baer, Walter Dodds and Jesse Nippert in advisory roles. In the Fall, 2017, Jesse Nippert became the lead PI. LTER VII addressed new research themes and questions associated with alternate stable states, but maintained our long-term overarching goal to understand the interactive effects of key natural and altered drivers on grassland dynamics and to advance ecological theory through synthesis and integration of LTER data. As to be expected in a long-term ecological research program, many of the long-term experiments and datasets initiated in previous LTER funding cycles were continued throughout the current funding period, while several new experiments and datasets were initiated. The value of these long-term experiments and datasets continues to increase with time. In addition, results from these long-term studies have new relevance as we move towards evaluating the ecological impacts of a suite of global change phenomena occurring at KNZ.
During this funding cycle, we coupled decadal-scale experiments and observational measurements to understand ecological dynamics and trajectories of change in tallgrass prairie, with new complementary studies to investigate mechanisms underlying sensitivity and resilience of grasslands to global change. Our research addressed mechanisms including legacies and feedbacks that influence grassland sensitivity, and identified how these drivers modulate the resilience and recovery of grassland. This approach provided broad insight for a range of general ecological phenomena and provided a platform to test general ecological theory. Several new KSU faculty scientists were added in LTER VII, including Lydia Zeglin (Biology), Andrew Hope (Biology), Trisha Moore (Civil Engineering), and Eduardo Santos (Agronomy). New faculty scientists added from non-KSU institutions include: Pam Sullivan (Oregon State), Sally Koerner (UNC-Greensboro), Kim Komatsu (Smithsonian), Kevin Wilcox (Wyoming), and Meghan Avolio (Johns Hopkins University).
Our aims for LTER VII were to:
1. Build upon our core LTER experiments and expand datasets on fire, grazing and climate variability to deepen and refine our understanding of the abiotic and biotic factors and feedbacks affecting grassland structure and function;
2. Develop a mechanistic and predictive understanding of grassland dynamics and trajectories of change in response to natural and anthropogenic drivers using long-term experiments and datasets, coupled with complementary shorter-term studies;
3. Conduct new syntheses using KNZ data and results from other sites to advance ecological theory, and expand the inference of KNZ research to other grasslands and biomes;
4. Train the next generation of ecologists, educate the public, and provide outreach to increase the relevance of KNZ long-term research to society.
For more detailed information, see our LTER VII proposal.