.|  FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions


 
Traditional rowhouses on East Fort Avenue in Locust Point
 
Photograph transferred from en.wikipedia.org
1. What is an ecosystem?
 
2. How is a city an ecosystem?
 
3. Why is this research so novel?
 
4. Why is research over long periods important to ecosystem ecology?
 
5. What is the LTER program?
 
6. How many LTER sites are there?
 
7. How many of these LTER sites are urban?
 
8. Why Baltimore?
 
9. How will this research affect the people of Baltimore?
 
10. How will schools be involved?
 
11. What is the estimated cost of the first phase of the project?
 
12. How long is this project expected to last?
 
13. What are the products?
 
14. Are there project offices in Baltimore?
 
15. Why are Dr. Pickett and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies taking a leading role in this project?

 

What is an ecosystem?
An ecosystem is an area where living things interact with each other and their physical and chemical environment.
 
How is a city an ecosystem?
There are the same basic kinds of interactions in cities as in other ecosystems. But those interactions are greatly affected not only by the structures that people have built and the energy they import, but also by people's cultures, behaviors, social organization and economy. So cities are just a somewhat more complicated kind of ecosystem, and interactions among researchers who understand all these elements of complexity are required to understand cities as ecosystems. Ecologists, social scientists, economists, and engineers are all involved, along with city, county, state and national agencies. Interactions with the citizens and with community groups is also a big part of the success of an urban ecosystem study.
 
Why is this research so novel?
In spite of the fact that a majority of the US population lives in metropolitan areas, for a long time ecologists rarely studied cities and their surrounding suburban and rural lands as ecological systems. There are some isolated studies of specific factors, but the integrated studies to examine biodiversity, nutrient and energy flow, ecological structure, and dynamics of all these things through time, are only now coming to be the main approach to urban ecology. In addition, if we apply a truly ecological perspective, the social, hydrological, atmospheric, and built components of the systems must also be included. All the disciplines required for this complete ecological understanding of an urban area have rarely been pulled together in a focused study before. This is cutting edge research in ecology and in the combination of disciplines required.
 
Why is research over long periods important to ecosystem ecology?
Ecological changes and interactions take a long time to play out. This is because interactions often have to go through several steps, or have slow rates of change. Many ecological processes take decades to act or to have obvious effects. And on top of all that, the physical environment itself is changing around the ecosystems. The social, economic, and political aspects of urban regions also change through time.
 
What is the LTER program?
LTER stands for Long-Term Ecological Research (http://www.lternet.edu/). It is a research program sponsored by the US National Science Foundation that provides support for ecological studies and experiments that take longer to yield results than the normal grant, which lasts for only a few years. The program was established in 1980.
 
BES was established in 1997. Since that time, demographic and investment shifts, targeted improvements in infrastructure, neighborhood revitalization and greening efforts, and extreme wet and dry years have caused changes in ecological processes in Baltimore. The long-term records emerging from BES are already helping to answer questions about the structure and function of urban ecosystems, and contributing this knowledge to improving the sustainability of the Baltimore region.
 

 
How many LTER sites are there?
There are now some two dozen LTER sites in total. Most are in wild or rural places, and they are scattered from Alaska to Antarctica, and from Puerto Rico in the Caribbean to Moorea in the Pacific. Represented are many of the major kinds of habitats in the United States and its territories, including grasslands, deserts, lakes, forests, and coastal zones.
 
How many of these LTER sites are urban?
Two LTER sites focus on urban systems. The other urban LTER site is the Central Arizona-Phoenix project. Several of the other LTER sites do look at human effects in their mostly natural regions, however. Research relevant to urban areas is found in the Florida Coastal Everglades LTER, the Plum Island Ecosystem LTER, and Coweeta LTER. BES has served as a model for other emerging long-term social-ecological studies in the United States and around the world.
 
Why Baltimore?
Baltimore has a long history of social science research that takes an ecological perspective. This is quite rare, and means that we are able to very readily connect ecological and physical sciences research based on a well developed understanding of the social organization and processes in Baltimore. Researchers from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Johns Hopkins University, the USDA Forest Service, and the US Geological Survey - all located in Baltimore -- are key members of the LTER team. In addition, there are wonderful paleoecological (ancient) records, and great geographic data and historical records that have been collected in Baltimore. The connection with the Chesapeake Bay is also important. Last, but by no means least, there is a well established and mutually respectful network of interaction between researchers, community leaders, managers, and policy makers in Baltimore. The Parks and People Foundation has been crucial in developing and maintaining these links.
 
How will this research affect the people of Baltimore?
We hope to help in the education of students from very young ages through college, to show them how research is done and to make them aware of the availability of careers in science. We also will interact with teachers and schools to help in their science curricula. Many of the data will help the people who manage natural areas, parks, and streams to make better informed decisions. Neighborhood revitalization and planning efforts can use high quality ecological data and our experimental results to work toward their goals. Ultimately the continued availability of ecological services in Metropolitan Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay can be improved by the ecological monitoring and knowledge the LTER provides. We help people see how their environment is changing, and assist them in deciding how to plan and react to those changes.
 
How will schools be involved?
We work very intimately with the school systems, involving students in research and helping train teachers in the methods for teaching the sciences. We mentor students, serve as a high quality destination for field trips, and provides ecological information for the schools. Public and private schools - primary, secondary and college-level -all take advantage of the knowledge and methods we develop.
 
What is the estimated cost of the first phase of the project?
The project is initially funded for six years, with the possibility of continued funding in six year increments. Over the current six years funding cycle, BES will receive roughly $5,000,000 from the National Science Foundation. Additional support comes through the U.S. Forest Service, which has a long history of research and community forestry activity in Baltimore, which provides in-kind support for staff research, facilities, and community engagement.
 
How long is this project expected to last?
Assuming that we do a good job, and that the National Science Foundation maintains its decades-long commitment to Long-Term Ecological Research, we hope to continue this project for at least several decades. Baltimore, like cities throughout America, is changing profoundly downtown, in the neighborhoods, in the suburbs, and out in the countryside. All of these locations have provided sites of important, and sometimes surprising, long-term ecological trends. The only way to be certain that we discover and understand the changes in our environment is to actually study the ecosystems for long time periods. As climate change takes a greater hold of the global and regional environments, the long-term mandate becomes all the more important.
 
What are the products?
There is much that scientists have to learn about how cities work as integrated social-ecological systems. Therefore, we already have produced several hundred technical books and articles. Beyond that, but based on those rigorous scientific foundations, we will provide high quality data that represent the variety of habitats throughout the metropolitan area, and make those data available to citizens and policy makers. We also help citizens be better prepared to know what ecological data mean. We build and make available mathematical models that can help people see and evaluate the kinds of ecological changes that Baltimore and the Chesapeake might undergo given different development scenarios. But perhaps most important of all, we help broaden the talent pool available to American ecology by showing science and its application as a viable career to students who might not otherwise see that.
 
Are there project offices in Baltimore?
The headquarters of the Baltimore Ecosystem Studies is located at the Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education (CUERE) at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. This is one of Maryland's Honors Universities, and its commitment was crucial to founding BES. In addition to collaborators at UMBC, BES has Principal Investigators at the USDA Forest Service Field Station, the Johns Hopkins University, the Parks & People Foundation, the University of Maryland, College Park, the and the US Geological Survey. Important partnerships exist with agencies within the City of Baltimore, Baltimore County, the State of Maryland, and the US Environmental Protection Agency, among others. Other Principal Investigators, graduate students, and post-doctoral associates represent some two dozen research institutions around the US.
 
Why are Dr. Pickett and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies taking a leading role in this project?
The Cary Institute has been a pioneer in bringing ecological research to urban, suburban, and urbanizing landscapes. Such an application of ecology is traditionally very rare in America. Institute ecologists have conducted research in cities since 1983, and have hosted landmark meetings to bring scholars from the social, biological, and physical sciences together so that they can integrate their studies and be better prepared to understand the many factored systems that our metropolitan areas represent. Institute conferences have also helped integrate social-ecological research with urban design and environmental ethics. In addition, the Institute has a nationally recognized educational program that has provided leadership in inquiry based ecological education, ecological curriculum development, and schoolyard ecology. That background prepared Dr. Pickett and colleagues to help assemble an expert team comprising many disciplines, representing crucial and well known institutions from Baltimore and elsewhere, and becoming the "lightning rod" for the creative energies of many people.