The voyage of the “Beagle” has been by far the most important event in my life, and has determined my whole career.… I have always felt that I owe to the voyage the first real training or education of my mind; I was led to attend closely to several branches of natural history, and thus my powers of observation were improved, though they were always fairly developed.
—Charles Darwin, 1887
Captain Robert FitzRoy unwittingly altered the course of the scientific enterprise when by serendipity he engaged a young naturalist to join him on a 5-year sea voyage to Tierra del Fuego. Fitzroy, a gifted meteorologist and a career officer in the Royal Navy, came to the helm of his vessel, HMS Beagle, quite unexpectedly. The loneliness of the sea, it seemed, had led the ship’s previous captain to take his life during the Beagle’s first research voyage to South America. To guard against a similar fate, FitzRoy requested the accompaniment of a science-minded companion to keep him engaged—Charles Darwin.
On December 27, 1831, Fitzroy and Darwin set sail on their famous voyage aboard HMS Beagle. Fitzroy provided a crucible—a mobile biological field station—that gave Darwin unprecedented access to pristine natural environments, where he recorded careful observations on geology as well as the behavior, physical shape, and ecology of plants and animals. The result was that Darwin provided the world with the key to modern biology: the theory of natural selection.
Naturalists such as Darwin who observed and described the world around them laid the foundation for such scientific disciplines as biology, physics, and biogeography (Dolan 2007, Wyman et al. 2009). Many of their observations were made from field camps and stations, marine laboratories, and nature reserves, all referred to herein for brevity as field stations. Field stations have long been stewards of place-based historical data on our natural world. In this report, we use the definition of a field station in Box 1-1, and this definition includes marine laboratories and natural reserves.
A field station is a center of scientific research, conservation, education, and outreach that is embedded in the environment in a location that is usually protected and that serves both the local community and the larger scientific community. The research conducted at a field station is often focused on local environmental regions, but national and international scientific projects are common.
aReferred to herein for brevity as field stations.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) recognizes the values and vulnerabilities of field stations and welcomes guidance on positioning them to advance science and society in a financially sustainable manner. To that end, NSF asked the National Research Council to review and assess the roles that field stations play in promoting and supporting research in science and engineering, in education at all levels, and in outreach to policy makers and the general public (see the Statement of Task in Appendix A). NSF is also interested in investigating new modes of operation of field stations that include enhanced engagement of scientists in different countries and of citizen scientists, and in nurturing closer ties with their local communities. NSF asked the National Research Council to give special consideration to collaborative mechanisms through which field stations can work with one another, nationally and internationally, and with state and federal research facilities to enhance their research and training programs and to reduce duplicative efforts.
In responding to the Statement of Task, the committee encountered a significant challenge to empirically demonstrating the value of field stations due to the lack of aggregated data on their activities and impacts on science and society. Some field stations collect data about their individual programmatic impacts, although the data may not be publically available. No recent attempts have been made to aggregate data across the community of field stations such as trends in station activities, contributions to research publications or public policy reports, programmatic outcomes and impacts, or other data that could be used to enumerate how field stations over time have contributed to science, education, and public outreach. Quantitative measures of the current status of field stations and historical trends in field station use and support would likely boost arguments for a broad investment in the enterprise. For example, annual data on the use of field stations by researchers, students, and the public could indicate trends in demand for this infrastructure. In the absence of this information, unless otherwise noted, the committee relied on its collective experience, publicly available data on individual and small networks of field stations, and anecdotal evidence to characterize the community of field stations and their value to science and society.
Field stations constitute critical infrastructure for the scientific enterprise. More than 900 field stations are scattered around the world (Figure 1-1). Field stations vary greatly in size, sophistication of infrastructure, and distance from population centers. For example, a field station may be a rustic shelter within a gated or fenced-in nature reserve or a sophisticated marine laboratory with modern research equipment and vessels, laboratory space, residential housing, and conference facilities. On both ends of the spectrum, they provide environments to observe nature where access is relatively controlled and experimental setups are relatively protected from tampering. A few publications provide basic information about an
aggregate of field stations, although none of these assess the impacts or value of field stations to science and society (Table 1-1).
The most recent and comprehensive survey found that approximately 75 percent of field stations that hold U.S. mailing addresses are overseen by a college or university (NAML-OBFS 2013b). Informal studies suggest that fewer overseas stations are university affiliated (Dolan 2007, Wyman et al. 2009), but formal assessments of field stations around the globe have not been conducted to confirm this finding.
Many field stations are affiliated with the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS), the National Association of Marine Laboratories (NAML), or their international counterpart. OBFS supports its members by developing relationships with funders, cooperating in research networks, and sharing information with representatives in Washington D.C., but it does not serve as a central administration. Similarly, NAML’s mission is to stimulate research and promote education while providing its membership with strong public policy support and a venue for resolving problems common to most nonprofit marine laboratories in the nation. Neither OBFS nor NAML is considered a formal network or provides a management structure for its members. However, OBFS and NAML play important organizing roles for the field station community discussions about the value of field stations to science and society, and approaches to prepare field stations for the future.
|Publication||Data Gathering||Na||Geography||Annual Operating Budget||Primary Affiliations|
|NAML-OBFS (2013b)||Formal survey in 2012||197-218||Field stations and marine labs with U.S. mailing addresses||16.8%, <$50k
7% Other (n=202)
|Whitesell et al. (2002)||Formal survey in 1997||66||tropical biological field stations (33 countries)||$846-$2.9M Avg = $323,811 Median = $85k||Not reported|
|Wyman et al. (2009)||Informal questionnaire 1993-2007||90-201||International field stations, marine labs, and agricultural stationsc||Not reported||35.4% University
a Range provided when not all respondents answered every survey questions.
b NGO = nongovernmental organization.
c In many countries overseas, agricultural research stations are available to conduct ecological research or natural history studies.
FIGURE 1-1 World map of biological field stations and marine laboratories. The global distribution of 963 terrestrial, coastal, and marine stations for which current operating status and geographic location could be determined. Information for approximately two-thirds of the stations was determined from databases provided by the National Association of Marine Laboratories, the Organization of Biological Field Stations, and the Royal Geographical Society. Station information was also obtained from websites of the Association of European Marine Biological Laboratories, the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution, the Chinese Ecosystem Research Network, the Institute of Biological Problems of the North, the Japanese Association of Marine Biology, the International Network for Terrestrial Research and Monitoring of the Arctic, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institutes, the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network, the World Association of Marine Stations, and the Google search engine.
Long-term datasets, coupled with monitoring and experimentation, provide mounting evidence that the human footprint is “stressing natural and social systems beyond their capacities” (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005, IPCC 2007, NSF 2009). Indeed, forecasts for the remainder of the 21st century suggest that Earth will undergo global changes at an increasing rate (NRC 2010a,b 2013; AAAS 2014). Climate change, overexploitation and pollution of natural resources, and instabilities in food production pose considerable threats to ecosystem resilience and to the mental, physical, and economic health of people and nations. These stressors present major societal challenges for which substantial data and infrastructure are needed (EPA 2012).
Research conducted at field stations enhances scientists’ ability to make reliable, robust projections of change that can help decision makers identify, evaluate, and choose among potential actions. For example, the relatively undisturbed conditions that exist at many field stations combined with long-term data on populations, communities, and baseline environmental conditions make these sites fruitful for assessing climate change impact. Long-term data on
|Studyb||N: Species + Functional Groupings||% Changing Distribution + Phenology||% Change Consistent with Climate Change||p-Valuec||% of Studies Conducted at Terrestrial Field Stations|
|Parmesan and Yohe (2003)||1598||59||84||<10 13||28|
|Root et al. (2003)||1468||40||82.3||<10 13||31|
|Parmesan (2007)||202||78||91||<10 7 d||42|
|Rosenzweig et al. (2008)||Not specified||_||90||<0.001||33|
a Data presented reflect only terrestrial studies. Publications on impact of climate change on marine life were excluded because of the difficulty of assessing the extent to which marine laboratories facilitated the research (i.e., information was not provided in the publications)
b These four meta-analyses publications are heavily cited in the scientific literature (nearly 8,000 total citations in Google Scholar as of March 30, 2014) and contributed substantially to the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Reports (IPCC 2001, 2007, 2014)
c Binomial probability for the percent change that is consistent or inconsistent with local and regional climate change.
d p-value calculated from original dataset, but not provided in the publication.
phenological events (e.g., yearly dates of bird breeding, leaf budding, butterfly emergence, arrival of migratory species), population dynamics, or even species presence and absence can be analyzed for long-term trends and linked to trends in local or regional climate. Field stations figure prominently in a number of major global meta-analyses of the impacts of anthropogenic climate change on the distributions of wild species, accounting for 28-43 percent of the studies included in the analyses (Table 1-2). This body of research clearly has shaped international greenhouse gas policies, as evidenced by its consistently high profile in the assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2001, 2007, 2014). In particular, this work has been crucial for assessing “dangerous” levels of anthropogenic contributions to climate change (Hansen et al. 2013), and contributed to the international agreement to keep global warming below a 2°C threshold (UNFCCC 2009).
Field stations enable scientists to discover and increase knowledge about biological and physical processes that govern our world and to document, forecast, and design strategies to adapt to and mitigate a wide array of environmental and ecosystem challenges. They can be thought of as nodes in a sensing network to monitor changes in the environment. The long-term observations across a range of landscapes—from the relatively pristine to urban or agricultural areas—form important and irreplaceable historical records of environmental changes and the
impact of human activities. For example, field stations have supported discoveries ranging from the interconnectedness of food webs to the geographic patterns of the spread of disease to the extent and consequences of global climate change—discoveries that required long-term, place-based research (Michener et al. 2009, Billick and Price 2010). Field stations provide windows into ecosystems that may not be otherwise readily available to scientists (Box 1-2). The longitudinal baseline and time-series data collected at field stations can be used to evaluate environmental change and the forces that drive it. Field station data have proven to be vital for forecasting future change (Billick et al. 2013). As a result, the landscapes surrounding field stations often are intensively studied ecosystems “in which the steady accumulation of site-specific knowledge becomes a powerful platform for future research” (Billick et al. 2013).
Field stations make up a critically important component of the nation’s research capital that is complemented by protected lands in parks and forests, in land conservation trusts, and on private property. The infrastructure of field stations offers unique advantages to research in terms of place-based logistical support and equipment. Field stations support continued access to protected study sites and relatively secure placement of conspicuous experimental materials (cages, markers, and other equipment) that enable scientists to collect long-term data to document local natural history. In addition, field stations have inspired countless young people to pursue careers in science and have trained countless more. Field stations are important for science and education in a world that is changing at an unprecedented rate, and their value to society only grows with time.
Field stations are important for STEM education and training at all levels. Many young people have been drawn to science—whether to pursue it as a career or avocation or to advocate for scientific endeavors—because of a visit to a field station. They include the members of the current committee, who on average had their first field station experiences 36 years ago. That fact helps to validate the integration of scientific research with formal and informal education as an important endeavor for field stations, and it should encourage field researchers to find opportunities to engage students and other citizens as part of their research teams, offering them hands-on research experiences (Billick et al. 2013). Moreover, students often contribute substantially to research conducted at field stations (Box 1-3), advancing science as they learn.
In a recent survey conducted by the NAML and the OBFS, more than 90 percent of the 227 respondents reported that their field stations serve academic research scientists, graduate students, and undergraduates (NAML-OBFS 2013b). Numerous Research Experiences for Undergraduates at field stations are either supported directly by the stations or by government programs (NSF 2013a, b).7
7See NSF list of Research Experiences for Undergraduates sites, http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/list_result.jsp, and NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCOR), http://www.nsf.gov/od/iia/programs/epscor/nsf_oiia_epscor_index.jsp.
Many field stations also have postgraduate research students and postdoctoral fellows on site who participate in research, teaching, and outreach activities with local communities.
Field experiences are ideal for discovery-based learning,8 which can help improve a student’s science scores, self-esteem, conflict resolution, problem solving, motivation to learn, and classroom behavior (American Institutes for Research 2005). Field stations draw learners of all ages into hands-on learning in real-world classrooms. These learners often differ from those found on university campuses in that they might include elementary school students on field trips, city council members participating in seminars on enhancing community resilience, a university provost who explores options for campus green building initiatives, or a senator who wants to understand the nuances of a state’s ecosystem-health report card. A growing and more sustained presence at field stations includes members of the general public who are participating in research initiatives.
Field stations facilitate learning—by citizens of all ages, from kindergarten age to adulthood—about local natural history and engagement in science. More than 60 percent of field stations serve K-12 students, the general public, and state or federal government scientists (NAML-OBFS 2013b). Many outreach programs at field stations focus on informal education through public lectures, workshops, science cafés, field trips, nature walks, and volunteer opportunities. These activities held at field stations and in nearby communities provide opportunities for the exchange of ideas between scientific staff at field stations and lay audiences. For example, the Nantucket Field Station of the University of Massachusetts Boston maintains an array of K-12 activities that include a Junior Ranger program for middle-school–age children and science internship programs for high school students. It also operates a volunteer program in which interested citizens can assist with maintenance, administrative tasks, and research. The University of Maryland’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory includes a volunteer-run visitor center and hosts free “science for nonscientists” outreach seminars. Some field station staff also contribute to outreach by advising decision makers ranging from civic groups to state governments. The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Field Station staff provides advice to local community groups and state and federal agencies about natural history, conservation, and other issues associated with natural areas.
One way in which some field stations enhance public outreach is through citizen science programs (see Box 1-4). Citizen science provides a way for people interested in science to engage actively in understanding environmental issues that affect their communities and in supplementing and sustaining data streams that have been interrupted or curtailed by reductions in government funding for monitoring (Conrad and Hilchey 2011), and in developing new data streams not previously available.
8Discovery-based learning, also called inquiry-based learning, requires students to pose their own questions, develop hypotheses, and design experiments to address their questions (Johnson and Lawson 1998).
Red imported fire ants and a Phorid fly. Photo Credit: John & Kendra Abbott/Abbott Nature Photography.
In 1981, red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) invaded the Brackenridge Field Laboratory (BFL) in Austin, Texas, and triggered a cascade of scientific inquiry that has expanded into a long-term research program on effects and biological control of invasive species. Fire ants, native to South America, are invasive pests in the United States, Australia, the Caribbean, and some eastern Asian countries. The United States spends an estimated $8 billion each year on fire ant control, damage mitigation, and medical treatment. Scientists at BFL have conducted extensive natural-history research, and the red ant invasion provided an opportunity to collect additional baseline natural-history data and track the effects of these invasive ants on the native arthropod community. Undergraduate students conducted some of the key initial studies of the ant invasion. A graduate student’s work that documented how parasitoid (phorid) flies disrupt the foraging activities of a different ant species at BFL led directly to a major national program that uses phorid flies as biological control agents for fire ants (Feener 1981). Today, the BFL research group forms a key hub in the international fire ant research network, which includes collaborations that span continents. BFL maintains partnerships with more than 100 private landowners and agencies for region-wide evaluation studies and has established teaching and outreach programs about the challenges posed by invasive species in natural settings. The fire ant study has resulted in more than $10 million in research funds over 20 years, more than 80 publications, and a broader expert research program on invasive species.
Left, Willis Hewatt at Hopkins Marine Station, 1935; Right, Raphael Sagarin at Hopkins Marine Station, 1994. Photo Credit: Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University.
The oldest marine station on the West Coast of North America, Hopkins Marine Station, opened in 1892 as the Hopkins Seaside Laboratory and became the Marine Biological Laboratory of the Leland Stanford Junior University in 1906. In 1917, the field station moved to its current location and was renamed the Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University (CENS_2013). The State of California designated the Hopkins Marine Life Refuge in 1931, and a graduate student, W.G. Hewatt, established a permanent 98.8-m-long intertidal transect (Hewatt 1934, 1937); marking the transect with brass bolts. Some 62 years later, two undergraduate students started a class research project to replicate Hewatt’s research thesis. They produced one of the first studies to show that climate change was transforming a regional ecosystem (Barry et al. 1995, Sagarin et al. 1999) and demonstrate that students are often the driving force behind important science discoveries. Their work clearly demonstrated the importance of field stations for maintaining a protected environment and a long-term historical record of place-based research, and spurred a wave of similar research focused on species distributions.
Citizen science is not a new concept. The Audubon Christmas Bird Count9, initiated over a century ago, demonstrates that citizens who have a passion for the environment and natural history can be counted on to deliver accurate data on species distributions and abundances of birds. By 1990, such activities by science-
interested members of the public had become more formally known as citizen science. Today, citizen involvement in science is widespread, and volunteers are collecting valuable data that contribute to our understanding of ecosystems and of how human activities may be altering them. The spectrum of citizen science initiatives is broad, from relatively simple observational programs—such as iNaturalist, eBird, the Reef Environmental Education Foundation programs, and National Geographic’s Bioblitz—to coordinated, training-intensive water-quality monitoring programs (Bowser and Shanley 2013). Some of the programs are coordinated by field station scientists or conducted at field stations themselves. Those citizen science initiatives help to meet conservation goals and empower citizens to engage in the science that is essential for solving ecological and economic problems that result from overexploitation of natural resources, loss of critical habitat, and unexpected and catastrophic events.
What draws learners and researchers of all ages to field stations? Foremost are the ecosystems within which the stations are embedded. Field stations typically are near or embedded in relatively pristine environments. They provide researchers and students with access to study areas that offer some level of protection for scientists working alone in remote areas and protection of their equipment from vandalism and unintentional damage by visitors. The natural history often is well documented and featured prominently in the scientific literature, particularly for field stations that have supported scientific endeavors for long periods. Other qualities that draw people to field stations include the infrastructure that facilitates research (e.g., housing, library, herbarium collections, Internet access, laboratory space and equipment, historical data, and personnel) and the sense of community. The “station culture” that thrives in field stations creates rich opportunities for students and faculty (including artists, engineers, life scientists, and social scientists) to form new collaborations and friendships that lead to broad discussions and often to serendipitous scientific discoveries (Michener et al. 2009). Many field stations engender communities to which people return year after year to share knowledge, their concern for one another, and their concern for the natural world. These shared experiences enable researchers and students at field stations to have free and uninhibited exchange of ideas. Resident staff members are important members of that culture. They often are devoted to the station mission, are engaged in the research, and serve as a station’s ambassadors to the outside world through the researchers, teachers, students, and members of the public with whom they interact.
Many field stations are in jeopardy. The lack of widespread recognition of their contributions to science and society leads to their systemic underuse and underfunding. Moreover, their often remote locations, low overhead support, and varied affiliations can result in disparate research networks of field stations that have inconsistent operational and organizational cohesion. In difficult budgetary environments, field stations—especially remote or small ones—are vulnerable to budget cuts and even closure. The vulnerability can be seen around the world. In
American pika (Ochotona princeps). Photo Credit: Sally King, U.S. National Park Service; http://www.nps.gov/band/naturescience/pika.htm.
The American pika (Ochotona princeps) lives in the alpine tundra of the Rocky Mountains. It is intolerant of high temperatures, so it is a potential sentinel of global warming. Chris Ray, of the University of Colorado, has been conducting research in the university’s Mountain Research Station on the population ecology of the pika. She and researchers in the Colorado Division of Wildlife have partnered with local and regional organizations (Rocky Mountain Wild and the Denver Zoo) to support a citizen science effort to document the current distribution of pika. Their support includes training and the design of the observational program. Another partner in the effort is the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory of Colorado State University, which hosts and manages the website through which Pika Patrol volunteers can upload their observations (http://www.adventureandscience.org/pika.html). Through those combined efforts, over 189 observations have been recorded since the effort began in 2011.
2008, repair costs and other budget concerns led the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UH Manoa) to announce closure of the 35-year-old Kewalo Marine Laboratory of the Pacific Biosciences Research Center (PBRC). The announcement caused protests from the UH Manoa faculty and the marine biology community. The battle ended 4 years later in November 2012, when an interim vice chancellor and a relatively new chancellor reversed the decision, allowing PBRC to apply for new research grants, search for new tenure-track faculty members, and begin a strategy for extending PBRC’s K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs (Pennisi 2008, Cruz 2012, Kalani 2012).
In a similar situation, the 45-year-old Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) freshwater research station in northern Ontario, Canada—renowned for its research on and monitoring of the effects of mercury, acid rain, and other contaminants on Canada’s waterways—was scheduled to close in mid-2013. Fisheries and Oceans Canada chose to eliminate the ELA program after government budget cuts in 2012 (Orihel and Schindler 2014). However, the decision to close the ELA research station was reversed because of pressure from the local community and from academic and government scientists working at ELA (Hoag 2013). The outcry led to ELA’s operational support being transferred from the federal Canadian government to the provincial Ontario government and the International Institute for Sustainable Development, a nonprofit research institute based in Canada (CBC News 2014). Also, in 2013, the University of London decided to close the University Marine Biological Station Millport in Scotland, which had been a crucial part of a network of research stations around the UK and European coast for over 100 years. Pressure from online petitions, social media, and organized campaigns led to a change in ownership, and the station is expected to reopen as the Millport Field Center in 2014 (BBC 2013).
Other field stations have not been as fortunate. In a historic review of biological field stations around the world, the most common reasons cited for closure included death of the founder or director, natural disaster, war, and curtailment of funds (Jack 1945). In recent cases, limited funding to support operations appears to be the primary reason for field station closures, although natural disasters and lack of community support also may play roles. Winter 2012 was the first time since 2005 during which the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Eureka, Nunavut—the northernmost permanent, nonmaterial research facility in the world—did not take any scientific measurements. PEARL ceased year-round operations in April 2013 when it lost its federal funding despite the Canadian government’s assertion that Arctic research has high priority for Canada. PEARL now operates part-time on a donation basis (Globe and Mail, 2013). In 2011, the University of Manitoba closed the 45-year-old Delta Marsh Field Station because of severe damage caused by spring flooding. The cost of repairs, the reclassification of the land as floodplain, and the subsequent inability to secure new flood insurance led to the University’s decision to not reopen the station (CBC News 2011). Lack of financial or community support has caused other field stations (e.g., the San Blas Field Station in Panama; the National Wildlife Research Center in Kingsville, Texas; and the Meanook Biological Research Station in Manitoba, Canada) to close permanently (Alper 1998, Annand 2014, USDA 2014).
The research conducted at field stations is rich in diversity and depth, and is respected for moving science forward in fundamental ways that have changed our view of nature and advanced ecological theory. Field stations constitute an important part of a nation’s research infrastructure, one that enables scientists to better understand the world’s complex natural history and socioenvironmental
systems, and to better measure the rapid environmental changes that are stressing natural and social systems.
Sustained support for field stations allows continued access to a diverse array of ecosystems in which scientists can conduct reasonably protected long-term studies and manipulative experiments that are crucial if we are to understand the environmental, ecological, and evolutionary causes of observed changes on large scales of time and space. If field stations are to thrive in the 21st century and beyond, they will need to become more flexible, better able to adapt to changing research technologies, to changing economies, and to the changing environment in which we all are embedded. The following chapters outline a course of action to make that possible.
Chapter 2 describes strategies for increasing the value, relevance, and sustainability of field stations while enhancing their ability to adapt to changing environments, research technologies, and economic conditions. Chapter 3 presents opportunities to support these strategies through networking. Chapter 4 focuses on the challenges and opportunities to build and maintain infrastructure. Chapter 5 argues for visionary leadership and financially sustainable business models for field stations. Chapter 6 addresses the need for field stations to develop and document their impact. This requires collecting the necessary data and making them accessible to allow for trend and impact analyses across the community of field stations.
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