October’s NEON Spotlight demonstrates how scientists are leveraging the network’s open-source data to support their efforts in expanding ecological discovery and understanding. This month, we highlight a group of scientists pairing NEON data with advanced drone capabilities to create more accessibility to large-scale ecological data, a potential solution to curbing immense CO2 production; and a new revelation on plants thriving in arid regions. Our October stories serve testament to the critical nature of the NEON program in fueling and sharpening our knowledge of the natural world.This Month’s Spotlight
The latest news from NEON includes:
- Drones and NEON are making large-scale ecological data more accessible
Macroecology studies seek to understand ecological phenomena with causes and consequences that accumulate, interact, and emerge across scales spanning multiple orders of magnitude, like how global development is impacting climate change and affecting wildlife populations. However, macroecological data have historically not been democratized, so they are costly & difficult to acquire and analyze. This challenge inspired a working group of drone-using academic ecologists, NEON scientists, imaging researchers, remote sensing specialists, and aeronautical engineers to synthesize current knowledge to make these data more accessible and advance the democratization of macroecology.
- Plant biomass production potential solve for big CO2 emitters
Animal farms, like dairies, emit immense levels of greenhouse gases. However, using an algorithm developed from NEON, scientists including NEON’s Stefan Metzger have identified opportunities to dramatically reduce these emissions by removing CO2 from the atmosphere through plant biomass production. Researchers found plant biomass – long-lived deep-rooted vegetation within the dairy farm like forests and grasslands, for example – offset annual greenhouse gas emissions. This study design has great potential to improve the assessment of natural climate solutions that offset greenhouse gas emissions in agricultural systems.
- NEON data shows plants using nitrogen are most diverse in arid regions
After completing a comprehensive analysis of NEON data on plants across the United States, researchers discovered that nitrogen-fixing plants are most diverse in arid regions. This study also raises concerns, as ecologists are unsure how long these conditions supporting diverse floras in arid regions will last; subsequently, many of these unique plant communities may be at risk in the long term.
Sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and operated by Battelle, NEON is a continental-scale ecological observatory network dedicated to providing high-quality, consistently generated, standardized data that is free and available to all users. By enabling scientists, researchers, and students to address critical questions and understand ecosystem changes over time, the NEON program allows the ecological community to tackle questions and problems at a scale that was not possible before.