Turning Class Field Trips into Long-Term Research: A Great Idea with a Few Pitfalls

seawall_small-300x224LONG-TERM RESEARCH As we conduct fieldwork and process samples in the lab afterwards, we often ponder what the real sample size is. We measured hundreds or thousands of fish, shrimp, clams, or whatever it is that we work on. These seem like adequate sample sizes until we remember that they were all collected at a few sites (e.g., five), and so maybe our true sample size is five. Then it dawns on us that the samples were all taken in a single year, and we have to face the reality that our sample size may actually be one. Interannual variation has always been recognized, but the pressing issues of climate change, invasive species, and habitat degradation (and restoration) make it all the more important that we keep tabs on important physical conditions and biotic responses over long periods of time in order to discern patterns in freshwater (Dauwalter et al. 2009; Dodds et al. 2012; Wagner et al. 2013) and marine systems (Millner and Whiting 1996; Rogers et al. 2011). Long-term research projects are difficult for agencies to start because they involve tough decisions, such as where to situate the study and what the study goals are, but once it gets going, the momentum often carries the study for a while. However, inevitably, budget cuts, retirement or reassignment of key staff, changing priorities within the agency, or other processes undermine support for the project, and many end just as they are becoming most valuable. Some faculty members or teams at universities carry out long-term research, and the National Science Foundation supports some Long-Term Ecological Research Network sites, but for many faculty members, it can be very difficult to obtain continued funding for what some deride as “mere monitoring.” Access your special Members-Only content → 

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