Funding agency: 
National Science Foundation

Synopsis: To address ecological questions that cannot be resolved with short-term observations or experiments, NSF established the Long-Term Ecological Research Program (LTER) in 1980. Two components differentiate LTER research from projects supported by other NSF programs: 1) the research is located at specific sites chosen to represent major ecosystem types or natural biomes, and 2) it emphasizes the study of ecological phenomena over long periods of time based on data collected in five core areas. Long-term studies are critical to achieve an integrated understanding of how components of ecosystems interact as well as to test ecological theory. Ongoing research at LTER sites contributes to the development and testing of fundamental ecological theories and significantly advances understanding of the long-term dynamics of populations, communities and ecosystems. It often integrates multiple disciplines and, through cross-site interactions may examine patterns or processes over broad spatial scales. Recognizing that the value of long-term data extends beyond use at any individual site, NSF requires that data collected by all LTER sites be made publicly accessible.

The LTER program has long recognized the importance of humans in ecological systems and is especially interested in how human activities in urban settings interact with natural processes to determine ecological outcomes. Factors that control urban ecosystems are not only environmental, but also social and economic. These factors and their interactions need to be considered to understand urban ecosystems over long time frames and broad spatial scales.

Preliminary proposals due December 4, 2019, Full proposals due: June 15, 2020

Program Description

The LTER program enables research to advance the understanding of long-term ecological dynamics, processes, and phenomena. It provides researchers a unique opportunity to obtain an integrated, holistic understanding of populations, communities, and ecosystems that is not possible through individual, short-term awards.

The proposed research must be organized around a suite of compelling questions that deepen understanding of ecological processes and require uninterrupted, long-term collection, analysis, and interpretation of environmental data. LTER research should be developed around a conceptual framework that motivates questions requiring experiments and observations over long time frames. The conceptual framework should explicitly justify the long-term question(s) posited by the research and it should identify how data in LTER core areas and any experimental work contribute to an understanding of the question(s) while testing major ecological theories or concepts. The framework should provide the justification for all studies outlined in the proposal; ideally, it should be informed by analyses of existing long term data. Proposed research should have the goals of achieving a mechanistic understanding of biological responses to past and present environmental change at multiple scales and of using this understanding to predict ecological responses at population, community, and ecosystem levels and social responses to environmental change. Consideration of evolutionary processes is encouraged.

NSF invites proposals to establish a new urban LTER site to enhance the scope and disciplinary breadth of the LTER Program and to complement research carried out at current sites. A proposal may be submitted for a site for which long-term data exist or for a site that requires an entirely new effort. Use of existing federal and state facilities, and collaboration with other long-term research sites or programs are encouraged. Prospective investigators may wish to contact current LTER Principal Investigators to learn more about the structure and management of an LTER site.

Research proposals submitted to this competition should be built around a conceptual framework as previously described but should also integrate at least one social, economic, or cultural process. Potential focal areas may include, but are not limited to:

  • Interactions between human and natural systems, including land use and land cover change, and the role of demographic trends as drivers of social-ecological dynamics.
  • The feedbacks between human attitudes, beliefs and values, and environmental patterns and processes.
  • The role of institutions, governance structures, and socio-political forces in determining how human interactions and ecological processes feedback on each other.
  • Integration of engineering and design with natural and social sciences.

NSF encourages proposals that take advantage of opportunities for engagement with decision-makers, including the development of effective plans to promote knowledge co-production with stakeholders.

For purposes of this solicitation, "urban ecosystem" is defined as an area densely populated by humans, typically a city. As such, urban LTER sites should focus on the terrestrial environment, including freshwater systems and coastlines. Because funding for the new urban site will come primarily from the Division of Environmental Biology, research in coastal sites should not focus on adjacent marine or Great Lakes systems. The project should have a basic research theme; applied themes such as ecotoxicology will not be considered.

Core data collection at LTER sites will continue to center on the five areas of: 1) primary production, 2) population dynamics and trophic structure, 3) organic matter accumulation, 4) inorganic inputs and movements of nutrients through the ecosystem, and 5) patterns and frequency of disturbances. Analyses of these data provide the foundation for testing major theories and for identifying new questions that demand long-term study. These five areas focus and integrate LTER research within and among sites.

In addition to data all LTER sites collect in the five core areas, Urban LTER sites must collect data in at least one social, economic, or cultural process, and those data should be integrated with other core data to examine effects of human-environment interactions on urban ecosystem dynamics.

Please read carefully the program-specific review criteria described below.

Proposals also articulate milestones and deliverables for information management (hereafter referred to as data management consistent with wording from the NSF PAPPG These must include timelines for data release, publication of metadata, and online access through the Environmental Data Initiative (EDI) or other public data repositories discoverable via DataOne ( In addition, the proposal must demonstrate that LTER data access and management policies are being met, as outlined in the LTER Network’s Information Management Policy (

Review Process: A two-stage review process will be used for the opportunities described above.

  1. Preliminary Proposals: All proposers must submit a preliminary proposal that outlines the major goals of the project including the components described below. Preliminary proposals typically will be reviewed by a panel of outside experts. The Program Directors will communicate the decision to Invite/Do Not Invite full proposals via FastLane and those decisions will be based on reviews, panel recommendations, and additional portfolio considerations. Invite/Do Not Invite decisions are binding.
  2. Full Proposals: Invited full proposals will receive ad hoc and/or panel review at the discretion of the program as described in Section VI of this Solicitation. Full proposals that were not invited or that do not address the urban focus of this solicitation as defined above will be returned without review.
December 4, 2019
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