Accessible Ecology

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Jornada scientists have created tools and programs to make scientific results readily available to a variety of stakeholders, including land managers, scientists, and teachers. Outputs include web-based access to scientific data, methods to monitor changes in soils and vegetation around the world, and training for K-12 students and teachers.


Large amounts of information have been collected, and software tools have been developed to understand and predict dynamics of ecological systems. However, much of the data and tools remain inaccessible to a broad audience beyond the initial scientists, data collectors, and software developers. The Jornada has been developing tools and activities designed to make scientific knowledge readily available to many. These tools include: (a) educational activities geared towards K-12 with demonstrated impact on students, (b) web-based interfaces to allow access to complex data from many sources, (c) qualitative and quantitative methods to monitor changes in soils and vegetation through time and space, and (d) acquisition and analysis tools for imagery at scales relevant to ecological patterns.

K-12 Education  More than 77,000 K-12 students and 4,600 teachers have participated in the Jornada Schoolyard LTER Program (sLTER) since 1998 ( Three partners collaborate to run the program: (1) the nonprofit Asombro Institute for Science Education, (2) the USDA Jornada Experimental Range, and (3) the Jornada Basin LTER. The majority of sLTER participants come from districts with a high percentage of students considered “economically disadvantaged” (> 90%) and Hispanic (> 71%). The sLTER provides opportunities for teachers and students to engage in inquiry-based activities to learn about desert ecosystems and local research. Schools have documented an increase in science test scores for participating students. All sLTER programs are tied directly to LTER research on desertification.

Accessible long-term data  Jornada researchers have led the EcoTrends Project since its inception in 2004. This project is integrating and making easily accessible long-term ecological driver and response data from many sources. Over 50 US funded sites are included that represent global ecosystems (forests, grasslands, deserts; arctic, alpine; lakes, streams, coastal; urban).  All 26 LTER sites are represented as well as 14 USDA-FS, 7 USDA-ARS, and 16 NEON sites. Hundreds of datasets are accessible for cross-site comparisons and synthetic analyses.

Monitoring trends in vegetation and soils  The Jornada co-developed a qualitative and quantitative assessment protocol for rangelands that is being applied globally ( In both protocols, evaluators rate indicators tied to ecosystem attributes of soil and site stability, biotic integrity, and hydrological function. Measurements are also used to generate indicators relevant to management objectives, such as maintaining wildlife habitat and conserving biodiversity. Methods are being widely used on private and public land, both within the US and globally.

Geospatial data  Jornada researchers are developing and using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for mapping, assessment, and monitoring. Compared to manned aircraft, UAVs: operate at lower acquisition costs, can be deployed opportunistically, and obtain images from low altitudes at high resolution. The JORNADA is at the forefront of civilian UAV-based development for natural resources, and has developed a proven workflow to acquire, process, and analyze imagery beyond that feasible with ground monitoring. The same analysis techniques have been applied to imagery from piloted aircraft to assess larger areas. These techniques will be of great value for integrating remote sensing into national networks like LTER and NEON.

Through the Jornada Basin Schoolyard LTER program, more than 3,000 K-12 students participate each year in field trips that include participation in long-term data collection and analysis activities.

Credit: Asombro Institute for Science Education

A developing framework for synthesis includes five major steps (blue text) and four classes of products (yellow cylinders) result in making complicated data easily accessible for understanding and prediction by a broad audience. This framework combines long-term and deep, process-based data from LTER sites with broad and extensive data to be collected by observatories (e.g., NEON).

Source: Peters 2010


For further reading:

  • Herrick JE, Van Zee JW, Havstad KM, Burkett LM, Whitford WG. 2005. Monitoring manual for grassland, shrubland, and savanna ecosystems. Volumes 1 and II. USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range, Las Cruces, NM, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.
  • Peters DPC. 2010. Accessible ecology: synthesis of the long, deep, and broad. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 25: 592-601.
  • Peters DPC, Laney CM, Lugo AE. et al. 2011. Long term trends in ecological systems: a basis for understanding responses to global change. USDA Agricultural Research Service, Washington DC.

For further information:  Dr. Debra P.C. Peters (