Monday, March 21, 2016

Biological field stations

Northern Studies Centre, Churchill, Manitoba
Biological field stations are essential to managing the rapid environmental change taking place globally. We need a sustainable vision to ensure their success -- one that includes political support, increased public awareness, modernized cyber infrastructure, and improved data sharing. At the same time, we need to expand stations in areas that are underrepresented ecologically and geopolitically.

Biological field stations are under continuous risk of closure due to financial insecurity, lack of public support, and weak governance. Some 38% are administratively tied to colleges and universities, with the remainder overseen by museums, governmental organizations, and not-for-profits. We badly need a sustainable framework for biological field stations that recognizes their regional, national, and global importance. In addition they need to be integrated with larger initiatives, such as the Global Lakes Environmental Observatory Network and the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

A recent BioScience paper provides the first comprehensive inventory of the world's biological field stations. Its authors report 1,268 stations are operating in 120 countries - from the tropics to the tundra, monitoring terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems.

The global distribution of 1268 biological field stations (BFS). a: terrestrial BFS; b: marine BFS; c: freshwater BFS; d: BFS with multiple research domains.

Most biological field stations are located in pristine or remote areas, like the Tundra Ecosystem Research Station situated in Canada's Southern Arctic Ecozone. Far fewer are in urbanized areas, like the Ecological Rhine Station situated on a former ship in Cologne, Germany. There is a vital need to record more environmental data in human-dominated systems, such as cities, and in sensitive areas such as deserts, savannas, mountainous regions, and offshore locations.

Undergraduate and graduate training is another benefit provided by biological field stations. These 'living laboratories' play a key role in educating the next generation of environmental scientists, and offer collaborative, hands-on research opportunities.

Given the myriad of problems facing our forests, freshwaters, and oceans -- networked, sustainable biological field stations are essential. The information they collect is relevant to addressing most of today's pressing environmental problems -- from air and water pollution to the movement of invasive pests and pathogens. They deserve our strong support and protection.

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