Little rock boat and limnocorrals



At Wisconsin, E. A. Birge and C. Juday had led a comparative long-term investigation in lakes of the Northern Highland Lake District from 1925 through 1941. The next generation of limnological study at the UW-Madison was led by Arthur Hasler and focused on experiments both in the field and the laboratory, fish physiology and behavior, process studies, and the application of science to environmental problems such as lake eutrophication. The tradition of long-term, comparative lake research established by Birge and Juday did not emerge again until the 1980s with the establishment of the NSF-supported North Temperate Lakes LTER.

1980 – A brief history of NTL

The initial principal investigators were interdisciplinary, aquatic scientists comfortable with joint cruises or expeditions with physical, chemical, and biological colleagues. The broad disciplines, limnology and oceanography, from which we came were inherently and historically interdisciplinary. We knew and believed that the whole was not just the aggregation of the pieces, and that the physics, chemistry and biology, even at their finest partition, were inexplicable except through their relations to each other. This history led to an operational model of shared visions, resources, planning, and responsibilities.

Many basic structures and procedures established by the initial investigators have been retained over the first 20 years to the present. This consistency has been the case for direction and policy, proposal preparation, operation and management, graduate student mentoring, and data collection, management, and use. Program management emphasized shared governance, communication, and research, and empowered leadership to focus the vision and to resolve conflict. This general structure evolved somewhat to become more articulated as the size of the group and the complexity of our interactions grew.

Core data were managed as a project-wide resource rather than being owned by individual principal investigators. From the design of data collection, to incorporation in the centralized database, to analyses, our intent was to facilitate investigation of linkages among the components of the systems studied. Data from thesis research that were not part of our core data were incorporated into the database along with their associated metadata when the data were judged by the principal investigators to be likely to contribute to future LTER research, such as regional lake surveys.

Collaboration was encouraged outside of the LTER grant proper. We encouraged strong linkages between collaborative projects and the North Temperate Lakes LTER program. Key among those in the first 20 years were the Little Rock Acidification Experiment, the training grants from NSF on Synthesis of Lake and Stream Ecology (Research Training Grant) and Integration of Social and Natural Sciences (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship), and programs within agencies such as USGS’s Water, Energy, Biogeochemical Budgets (WEBB) Program at Trout Lake and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on the Madison Lakes.

The primary objectives of our program evolved from 1980 to present, and the scope changed dramatically in 1994 when we added lakes in an agricultural and urbanized landscape, brought in social scientists, and initiated regional and global comparative studies. The original three objectives, a) perceiving long-term change, b) understanding interactions of physical, chemical and biological processes, and c) understanding the role of disturbance, persisted through many grant cycles. These themes were the threads that tied our project together and provided a long-term perspective. Later proposals added new themes. Three facets of the program’s evolution are of particular interest: a) intersite science, b) regional science, and c) increasing disciplinary breadth. Each facet becomes apparent in the detailed evolution of our program objectives.

Looking forward

We began with a primordial vision of an LTER and evolved into a long-term regional ecology program over the first 40 years as evidenced by the change in the nature of our publications and the views of our students. As in the beginning, significant challenges face an LTER site. Those most apparent to us are balancing needs to maintain the old while embracing the new in terms of science, measurements, and technologies; balancing project manageability and program growth in terms of numbers of investigators and disciplines, and spatial extent of the research; retaining the continuity and integrity of truly long-term study; and the need to synthesize at many levels across time, space, disciplines, and ecosystems. These are welcome challenges; we look back with a certain pleasure and forward with commitment and excitement.

Updated/Edited Excerpt from Origin, Operation, Evolution, and Challenges
Long-Term Ecological Research on North Temperate Lakes
Edited by John J. Magnuson, Timothy K. Kratz, and Barbara J. Benson