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A Growing Global Research Footprint

The Nutrient Network continues to expand with new grassland sites internationally and here at home.

In 2019, the Nutrient Network (NutNet) achieved a new milestone — 143 sites on six continents. This summer, more than 40 researchers affiliated with the ecological research network attended the NutNet annual meeting hosted by Ecology, Evolution and Behavior professors Elizabeth Borer and Eric Seabloom. 

Elizabeth Borer and Eric Seabloom at NutNet 2019 MeetingBorer and Seabloom welcomed an international contingent of researchers on campus for the week-long annual meeting to synthesize findings from experiments and chart a course for the coming year. “NutNet is a bottom-up research network, and researchers leverage their own resources and funding sources to participate,” says Borer. 

The distributed experiment focuses on human impacts on grasslands around the globe, including far-flung locales from southern Patagonia to an island just shy of the North Pole. Now in its eleventh year, the network continues to grow, including right here in Minnesota. Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve just added a second site to the network and invited students in Foundations II to do field work at the site. 

"With the installation of the second set of NutNet experimental plots at Cedar Creek, we can now ask, at the same site, are our results repeatable?” says Borer. “Education and outreach programs also leverage these plots to engage students and school groups with data collection and experiments.”

For the first time this summer, students in Foundation II completed field research at the station’s new NutNet site. They were the first cohort with the option to focus on global change ecology and do field work as part of their research, a unique opportunity in an entry-level course. 

“The course gives students the opportunity to think about working within a system with constraints,” says Catherine Kirkpatrick, a teaching associate professor who led the course. “There are things you can control and things you can’t. So you set up your experiment and you try to account for the things you can’t control.”

All CBS students take Foundations of Biology II, which includes a lab component that allows students to select a research area of interest and then conduct group research projects over the semester. During the fall and spring semesters, students in global change ecology analyze data from existing research networks. 

The course is slated to take students back to Cedar Creek to conduct field work again in Summer 2020. -Claire Wilson


September, 2019