New NSF Award will create workflows for analysis of temporal community dynamics

We are thrilled to receive a new collaborative award from the Advances in Biological Informatics Program at NSF. Project PIs are Corinna Gries (University of Wisconsin), Matt Jones (NCEAS) and Scott Collins. This three year award from NSF will allow us to develop workflow tools and metrics to be used in the analysis of temporal dynamics of ecological communities. The "public abstract" for this award (also posted on the NSF website) states:

The species makeup of ecological communities varies over time in response to changes in the environment. Analysis of this variability has a long history in ecology, yet because of the lack of long term data, ecological change in different localities has been studied in a so-called ‘place for time’ approach. That is, environmental conditions in one locality are considered to be comparable to the future conditions in another place. Although, this approach allows some insight into general trends it does not provide much information about rates and patterns of change. Fortunately, NSF programs like LTER and LTREB have generated long term observations of different ecological communities to allow for more realistic measures of how ecological communities change over time.

Along with the availability of long-term datasets new methods for community change analysis are being developed. In addition, technological advancements are now making these datasets publicly available in on-line data repositories. Building on available long-term observations and advanced information technology we will develop a toolbox for automating the process of analyzing community change. Long-term data sets will be used to demonstrate data and system accessibility and functionality, and through implementation of new metrics we will gain insights into what drives change in ecological communities on a continental scale. Data will be accessed via the DataONE portal and the LTER Network Information System using the Ecological Metadata Language, and analyzed with R routines in Kepler workflows.

This open access toolbox will make community analysis more accessible and in turn expose a variety of indices to wider use, thorough testing, and improvement for measuring and visualizing ecological dynamics. Existing workflows will help reduce effort in data preparation and foster unprecedented potential for collaboration. Value added data products of community change indices across habitats are particularly valuable for education and outreach, and in broader synthetic activities related to environmental health, management, and dynamics at larger scales. Through the LTER Schoolyard program these data and understanding of environmental change will reach a large number and diversity of schoolchildren.