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New Long Term Ecological Research program will explore the urban ecosystem

The University of Minnesota, the University of St. Thomas, the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, and Water Bar have received $7.1 million over six years from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to launch the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area Urban Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program.

From mapping heavy metals and salt in soils across the Twin Cities metro to better understanding the intersection of investments in urban nature and racial injustice, researchers will launch an initial nine research projects and initiatives. Over 15 Institute on the Environment affiliates and staff are involved in this initiative. 

“By bringing together researchers from across institutions and fields of study, we will be able to explore how urban residents and urban nature interact with each other and how they respond to environmental and social change,” said Sarah Hobbie, the lead investigator on the LTER program. Hobbie is a professor at the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences and has been an IonE Fellow since 2011. “Ultimately, we want to figure out ways to understand and improve environmental outcomes for all people living in a city.”

Long Term Ecological Research sites – as their name would suggest – allow for the kind of long-term research, relationship-building, and problem-solving necessary to understand complex systems. In this case, urban nature, such as streams and urban forests, provides a number of benefits from flood relief to helping cities adapt to heat waves. However, urban nature continues to be under stressors caused by a number of factors, including climate change, invasive pests, pollutants, and habitat loss and fragmentation.

“Not all benefits and burdens are experienced equally, though,” said project co-lead Mae Davenport, a professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and frequent IonE collaborator. “Through the LTER program, we will be engaging with, listening to, and learning from Black, Indigenous and people of color to acknowledge and address systematic discriminatory practices in urban ecosystem science, policy and management.”

Among the research, education, and engagement efforts:

  • A team led by Leslie Brandt, U.S. Forest Service, and Jeannine Cavender-Bares, University of Minnesota (IonE Fellow): Examining how urban forests can become more resilient to withstand stressors, such as climate change and pests.
  • A team led by Susannah Lerman, U.S. Forest Service, and Adam Kay, University of St. Thomas: Testing the effectiveness of the new state-wide “Bee Lawn” program for transforming the Twin Cities metro into a refuge for pollinators.
  • A team led by Bonnie Keeler, University of Minnesota (IonE Fellow), and Kate Derickson, University of Minnesota (IonE Associate): Collecting evidence of the relationship between urban-nature investments and wealth inequality using property values as a proxy for wealth. Investigating the effectiveness of policy interventions that can promote neighborhood stability in a changing urban landscape to promote green investment without displacement.
  • A team led by Holly Menninger, Bell Museum (IonE Fellow): Working with teachers to develop resources for using urban nature in their own school yards and neighborhoods to engage with students about science in ways that meet state science standards.

Additional IonE affiliates involved in the initiative include Diana Dalbotten (SAFL), Michael Dockry (CFANS), Xue Feng (CSE), Jacques Finlay (CBS), Forrest Fleischman (CFANS), John Gulliver (CSE), Diana Karwan (CFANS), Eric Lonsdorf (IonE), Rebecca Montgomery (CFANS), John Nieber (CFANS), Emilie Snell-Rood (CBS), and Tracy Twine (CFANS).

Overall, the University of Minnesota collaborators represent more than a half dozen colleges and units, including the College of Biological Sciences; College of Science & Engineering; College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences; College of Liberal Arts; Humphrey School of Public Affairs; Institute on the Environment; Bell Museum; and Saint Anthony Falls Laboratory. Together, with their partners, they will conduct research, education, and community engagement efforts across the Twin Cities.

Learn more about every Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area Urban LTER program projects and initiatives.


This announcement was adapted from a UMN news release. Rupsa Raychaudhuri is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, studying Political Science, with minors in Statistics and Psychology.

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