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2004 NEON Summer Workshop Series

American Institute of Biological Sciences
Infrastructure for Biology at Regional to Continental Scales Project

The Infrastructure for Biology at Regional to Continental Scales (IBRCS) project of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) engages the scientific community in exploring the infrastructure needed to make advances in ecological and other biological disciplines that span regional and continental scales. The primary focus of the project has been the proposed National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), an initiative to establish a national platform for integrated studies and observation of natural processes at all spatial scales, time scales, and levels of biological organization. Through meetings, publications, and other outreach activities, AIBS has tried to educate the prospective NEON community about the program, provide venues for communication about NEON and related opportunities, serve as a central source of information, and help the community navigate the often shifting scientific, social, and political landscape on which NEON is developing.

Identifying and Addressing Needs

The previous two years of NEON-related activity have revealed several steps that the scientific community must take along the path to the creation of NEON. A critical milestone for NEON will be the development of a detailed description of the physical design of the network [i.e., a description of the infrastructure to comprise NEON, where it will be located (or how it will travel), and how it will be connected and incorporated into a functioning network]. Furthermore, a prerequisite to that physical design is a definition of the scientific objectives and targets of NEON. Therefore, the following three sequential activities are critical to the goal of creating NEON: Define the science; design the network; plan the implementation.

A National Research Council Committee on NEON recently recommended six grand challenge areas that require a national platform for research and education, and AIBS is now helping the community further define NEON science objectives and network design in the context of those challenge areas through a series of workshops. By conducting workshops in partnership with experts from the prospective NEON community, these workshops will provide venues for discussing, developing and prioritizing NEON's science objectives. The goal of the workshops is to (1) identify the key scientific questions and hypotheses related to the challenge area that can be best addressed by a distributed and integrated ecological research facility, such as NEON and (2) suggest infrastructure design needs for NEON, based on the technological and scientific requirements associated with those questions and hypotheses.

With its partners from the ecological community, AIBS is in the process of convening a series of workshops to explore how NEON can be designed to address the following environmental challenges:

  • Invasive Species
  • Ecological aspects of biogeochemical cycles
  • Biodiversity, species composition, and ecosystem functioning
  • Ecological implications of climate change
  • Land use and habitat alteration
  • Ecology and evolution of infectious disease

Guiding Scientific Questions and Targets

Workshop participants have been asked to submit a list of potential research questions for NEON to explore as a step towards developing a preliminary description of NEON's scientific and technological components. It was asked that the questions and targets; (1) relate to one of the six ecological themes being considered in the workshops, (2) be big, important open questions with high scientific and/or societal value, and (3) require a US-wide distributed biological research platform. The questions may focus at regional and/or continental scales. They may relate solely to one ecological topic or incorporate multiple focal areas. Questions may span the spectrum from applied science to basic science, and they may require expansion of existing research capabilities, or require novel approaches and instruments.

We are interested in gathering suggestions from the ecological community at large as well. Please send your questions and comments to Rina Aviram at AIBS, .

How Will Workshop Results Be Used?

Recently, NSF responded to favorable language from Congress, a National Academy of Sciences study on NEON, and an AIBS-organized NEON coordination conference by soliciting proposals for a NEON Coordinating Consortium (NCC) and Project Office. These entities will be responsible for developing the ultimate design and implementation plan for NEON. Proposals are currently under review and the formation of the NCC and project office is scheduled to begin during fall 2004, with the actual design work to begin at some point thereafter. With NEON again in the Administration's budget request to Congress for FY05, the need to make progress on the NEON science plan and infrastructure requirements is immediate. These workshops are designed to meet the need for continued progress on the NEON design. The results will be made available publicly but will also be specifically forwarded to the NCC and project office, once established. Thus, the recommendations arising from this workshop series will constitute a head start on activities requested by NSF and the results of the workshops have the potential to be a significant contribution to subsequent NEON planning activities when they begin.

The AIBS/IBRCS Project is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. All Content (c) AIBS, 2000-2004