Biological Field Stations Are Critical Laboratories for Environmental Scientists

Researchers conduct studies at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, a biological field station in Colorado.

 

“Field stations are places where we can read the book of life in the language in which it was written.”

—     James Kirchner, U.C. Berkeley

At a time when humans are altering the world at an unprecedented pace and scale, the need for objective field research has never been more urgent. Just as research hospitals are critical for medical breakthroughs, and telescopes essential for extending our knowledge of the universe, field stations provide the critical real-world laboratories environmental scientists need to further our understanding of the Earth and its processes.

Field stations provide protected environments in which researchers can conduct the long-term studies required for making fundamental discoveries. They serve as meeting places where scientists from different disciplines — ecologists, geologists, engineers, and others — can come together to share their expertise and provide valuable new perspectives for approaching environmental questions. They also furnish a supportive environment where veteran researchers can extend their legacies by mentoring new generations of young scientists.

For well over a century, basic research conducted at biological field stations has provided the scientific data and expertise required to identify and address critical environmental challenges, whether the issue was acid rain, the environment’s effect on the control or spread of new diseases, or ecosystem responses to global climate change.

Discoveries at Field Stations

Inspiring new technology

In 1930s at the Huyck Preserve and Biological Research Station in New York, Donald Griffin discovered that bats use echolocation to navigate and hunt. This finding quickly took on global implications, contributing directly to the Allied Forces’ development of sonar and radar during World War II.

Linking ecology and human health

Researchers at Sevilleta Field Station in New Mexico have drawn on the station’s long-term data sets to demonstrate that hantavirus outbreaks are linked to deer mice populations and El Niño weather patterns.

Predicting the effects of climate change

Dozens of global climate change studies are under way at field stations across the country, from Stanford University’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve in California to the Harvard Forest in Massachusetts.

Together, these long-term studies have fundamentally altered our understanding of the impact global warming is having on natural systems.

Sparking new biomedical technology

Scientists studying a population of parasitic flies at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory in Texas discovered that the fly had a previously unknown acoustical organ. This finding has led to a groundbreaking design for innovative directional hearing aids.

Observing and tracing environmental change

At Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire, researchers working on long-term water-quality studies noted a disturbing increase in the acidity of lakes and streams. Further work linked “acid rain” with emissions from coal-fired power plants and industrial facilities, resulting in national emission standards that have substantially improved water quality.

The information above was provided by the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS). To learn more, visit the OBFS Web site at www.obfs.org.

About L. Stephenson Carter

L. Stephenson Carter is a science writer/editor and was also on the board of directors of the E.N. Huyck Preserve in Rensselaerville, NY.
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One Response to Biological Field Stations Are Critical Laboratories for Environmental Scientists

  1. Sherbet says:

    What a fantastic blog!
    Being a scientist myself (though not in this field), I understand how important it is that we communicate to those outside our field, the importance of our research in the grand scheme of things, and therefore why it should be funded. Who would have known that studying flies would lead to the development of new hearing aids? Fantastic! It often is difficult to see how vital certain research really is until someone takes the time to sit down and explain it to you.

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