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Field stations foster serendipitous discoveries in environmental, biological sciences

es at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in Eugene, Ore. Research on old-growth forests and the importance of their biodiversity led to a far-reaching revision of forest management in the Pacific Northwest.

In their journal paper, the authors identify the underlying factors that contributed to these discoveries, including the interplay between "place" and "serendipity"--being in the right place at the right time.

However, not all unexpected discoveries occurred by chance, they state.

Long-term observation and monitoring programs, field research and experimentation, and synthesis efforts were equally responsible.

"Field stations are to biologists what telescopes are to astronomers, and what research vessels are to oceanographers," said Michener.

"They're places where basic biological discoveries are made, such as understanding the spread of human and animal diseases, and of invasive species--and what it takes to sustain the ecosystems in which we live."

Field stations provide logistical and laboratory facilities, offer secure places for deploying complex instrumentation, and allow for long-term observations of vegetation, animal populations, and soil and climate dynamics, state the authors.

They note that while initial discoveries of emerging pathogens are often made by public health workers and wildlife specialists from state and federal agencies, "established field stations provide the infrastructure, staff, and staying power to understand the life cycles and ecology of invasive or emerging disease vectors and pathogens."

In the Hantavirus example, long-term rodent studies were conducted for several years for a different purpose, yet provided data for addressing the ecology of this disease-causing virus.

Documentation of the precipitous decline of bald eagles at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary set the stage for Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, changing U.S. policy on use of pesticides like DDT. '/>"/>

Contact: Cheryl Dybas
National Science Foundation

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