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ESA Comments on the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)
Submitted by Nadine Lymn, ESA Director of Public Affairs

National Research Council Committee on NEON Workshop
June 10, 2003
National Academy of Sciences Building
2101 Constitution Ave., Washington, DC

The Ecological Society of America supports the goals and motivation behind NEON. Development of infrastructure that could facilitate research at broad spatial scales from a range of perspectives has obvious benefits. There is consensus on the potential value of this initiative.

We believe that a National Ecological Observatory Network will help integrate existing federal, state, and private efforts, boosting the nation’s ability to address critical national issues such as the rate and effects of exotic invasions and climate change on U.S. land and waters. NEON would be national in implementation, regional in bringing together scientists and citizens to explore and monitor the environment, and local in addressing the needs of communities. Specific areas of application could include:

- detection and tracking of diseases such Sudden Oak Death and West Nile Virus in bird populations
- climatic effects on U.S. agriculture
- movement of pollutants

Through NEON, biologists, mathematicians, engineers, and others could pursue interdisciplinary research using state-of-the-art technology, working together to understand and predict changes in the environment. Collectively, the network of observatories would enable scientists to study and evaluate ecological systems encompassing multiple levels of biological organization (genetics to ecosystems), scales (seconds to geological time), and size (microns to continents). Because NEON facilities would be located in various geographic regions, all parts of the country would benefit.

In order to convey NEON’s tremendous potential, it would be helpful to provide additional information on certain aspects of the proposed program:

  • Delineate issues that will be addressed over timeframes that have policy relevance
  • Note the types of decisions that will arise and the specific research that will inform them
  • Clarify how NEON will use and integrate existing data, increasing scientific efficiency and building on lessons from other programs
  • Aim to deliver products policy makers want, in a form they can use, including consideration of outcome-based performance measures
  • Demonstrate how NEON will manage for flexibility and scope; i.e. how decisions will be made about when to change sampling designs

This system of research facilities would have cutting edge equipment. The goal of integrated research at all scales on all aspects of biological change implies impressive foresight, in terms of baseline equipment, technical support, and capacity to respond to technological advances and changing environments. Atmospheric processes need one thing. Genomics needs another. Each research challenge might entail a unique optimal sampling design. NEON will need to address these multiple areas while retaining a capacity to allow for surprises from new knowledge or unanticipated events. These surprises are increasingly likely and agility to respond quickly enough to be useful will be essential to NEON’s success.


ESA believes that NEON will become a critical component of our nation’s capability to manage resources and meet environmental challenges. As the first-ever infrastructure platform for the ecological community, NEON would advance the science of ecological assessment and the integration of ecology with other disciplines, generating vital knowledge about our surroundings and equipping the country to better plan for inevitable changes.