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First Midwest Urban Long-term Ecological Research Site Established in Twin-Cities

National Science Foundation Grant Aims to Benefit Urban Residents/Promote Urban Nature

Saint Paul skyline at dusk.  Image by Yinan Chen from Pixabay. Saint Paul, MN, March 16, 2021 - The USDA Forest Service is part of a partnership that will establish the first urban long-term ecosystem research (LTER) site in the Midwest. Funded by a $7.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the Minneapolis-Saint Paul (MSP) Long-Term Ecological Research Program will focus on the dynamics of urban nature and the urban social system in the face of rapid environmental and social change.

“We are honored to be a partner with the University of Minnesota, the University of St. Thomas, and The Nature Conservancy in long-term ecological research in Minneapolis and Saint Paul,” said Cindi West, Director of the Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory. “This investment by the National Science Foundation will advance urban ecological science and, more significantly, advance inclusion of diverse urban communities in research to achieve more equitable and meaningful scientific and community outcomes.”

The Northern Research Station had been a co-leader in another urban LTER site since 1998. Research in Baltimore advanced our understanding of cities as dynamic social-ecological systems. The Baltimore LTER involved hundreds of collaborators from around the globe. It pioneered new theory and methods for characterizing urban ecosystems, established the longest running urban watershed hydrology and biogeochemistry datasets in the world, developed and applied novel long-term urban social survey instruments, and characterized long-term changes in multiple dimensions (plants, birds, soil fauna) of urban biodiversity. 

As part of the MSP LTER, initial Forest Service research will investigate adapting urban forests for climate change, pollinator habitat, and urban tree canopy. "Urban nature, in all its diversity, is critically important to urban residents, providing numerous potential benefits, ranging from health-related amenities to mitigating climate, while also providing wildlife habitat. However, these benefits are not equally accessible to everyone," said Forest Service Research Ecologist Susannah Lerman, a co-lead of the effort for the Forest Service. "The ultimate goal of the project is to figure out ways that environmental outcomes can be improved for all people living in the city," said Forest Service Eastern Region Climate Change Specialist Leslie Brandt, also a co-lead.



The mission of the Northern Research Station is to improve people's lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.


The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains world-renowned forestry research and wildland fire management organizations. National forests and grasslands contribute more than $30 billion to the American economy annually and support nearly 360,000 jobs. These lands also provide 30 percent of the nation's surface drinking water to cities and rural communities; approximately 60 million Americans rely on drinking water that originated from the National Forest System.


USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Stop 9410, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call toll-free at (866) 632-9992 (English) or (800) 877-8339 (TDD) or (866) 377-8642 (English Federal-relay) or (800) 845-6136 (Spanish Federal-relay).

Last modified: March 16, 2021