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Field stations foster serendipitous discoveries in environmental, biological sciences
Date:4/8/2009

North America's biological field stations have long been home to a rich legacy of research results, scientists say, making them important places for serendipitous discoveries in the biological and environmental sciences.

In a paper published in the April issue of the journal BioScience, researchers affiliated with the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network and other groups state that few people realize the value of the data and specimens held at field stations--until an event such as a disease outbreak or environmental disaster triggers their use.

"At a time when we are reinvesting in our nation's academic infrastructure, it's critical that we also invest in one of our greatest treasures--America's biological field stations," said William Michener, a biologist at the University of New Mexico and co-author of the paper.

Peter McCartney, program director in NSF's Division of Biological Infrastructure, agrees. "Support for field stations is an important part of NSF's overall investments in biological infrastructure," he said. "They provide scientists with research opportunities, while fostering the regional and continental scale sampling provided through the LTER Network and the National Ecological Observatory Network [NEON]."

The paper, "Biological Field Stations: Research Legacies and Sites for Serendipity," cites three examples in which major serendipitous discoveries occurred at field stations:

The relationship between the decline and subsequent recovery of bald eagles and the widespread use of organochlorine pesticides, based on monitoring studies at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary near Kempton, Pa.

An understanding of and ability to forecast the spread of Hantavirus and West Nile virus, based on research at the Sevilleta field station near Albuquerque, N.M.

Creation of a new framework for forest ecosystem management, later adopted as policy, based on field studi
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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