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1 I normal tire In 1997, the National Research Council established the Ecosystems Panel in response to a request from the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). The panel's charge include~periodic reviews ofthe ecosystems aspects of the USGCRP, and this is the first of those reviews. It is based on information provided by the USGCRP, including Our Changing Planet (NSTC 1997 and earlier editions)); ideas and conversations provided by participants in a workshop held in St. Michaels, Maryland, in July 1998; and the deliberations of the panel. In addition, the panel reviewed the ecosystems chapter ofthe NRC report Global Environmental Change: Research Pathways for the Next Decade MARC 1 999a, known as the Pathways report). THE USGCRP The USGCRP is an interagency program established in 1989 and codi- fied by the Global Change Research Act of 1990 (PL 101-606~. The USGCRP comprises representatives of the departments of Agriculture, Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Institute of Standards and Technology), Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services (the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences), Interior, The panel used the 1997 edition in developing much of this report. The 1999 edition (NSTC 1999) reflects the advice given in the Pathways report; the panel considers that it provides an excellent background for the recommendations in this report. 5
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6 GLOBAL CHANGE ECOSYSTEMS RESEARCH and State, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Office of Management and Budget, and the intelligence community (NSTC ~ 997~. The USGCRP's research program is described in detail in Our Chang- ingPlanet (NSTC 1997, ~999~. In brief, the program focuses on four major areas of earth-system science: Seasonal to interannual climate variability. Climate change over decades to centuries. Changes in ozone, ultraviolet (UV) radiation, and atmospheric chemistry. Changes in land cover and in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The fourth topic is the area in which advice was requested from the ecosystems panel. According to NSTC (1997), "The USGCRP supports research to inventory the current land cover of the Earth and to document changes; to improve understanding of the dynamics of land-cover and land- use change and how terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems react to change; and to document and understand chemical, physical, and biological processes in the oceans and their relationship with the carbon cycle and marine life." TH1t NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL STUDY The Ecosystems Panel's charge has three parts: to provide a forum for the discussion of questions of ecosystem science of interest to scientists in and out ofthe federal agencies, to periodically review the ecosystem aspects ofthe USGCRT's research program, and to help identify general areas of ecosystem science that need additional attention, especially areas that cut across ecosys- tems and levels of ecological organization. In addressing the second item of its charge for this report, the panel first identified the most significant and challenging areas in ecosystem science, then used that identification as a basis to make recommendations to the USGCRP. Thus, this report is not a detailed review of the USGCRP's program, but rather an attempt to identify those areas that the panel concludes are most in need of attention by a general research program on global change. As noted in this report, some of those areas are already receiving attention by the USGCRP. To help the panel identify these challenging research areas, a workshop was held in July of 1998 (the Appendix lists the participants). Based on that input as well as its own deliberations and other information provided by the
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NTRODUCTION 7 USGCRP, the panel arrived at the conclusions described in the remainder of this report. This report complements the recent NRC Pathways report (NRC ~ 999a) in that it focuses on ecosystems research, which was only one topic in the Pathways report's broader scope.