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Long-term Ecological Research

Up to now, long-term ecosystem research (LTER) has been focusing on the investigation of the influences of environmental changes on ecosystems. In future, socio-economic processes will increasingly be taken into account.

LTER (Long-term Ecosystem Research)

© Roland Mayr

“LTER” or long-term ecosystem research is concerned with ecosystems as a whole as well as with the development of processes and structures over centuries. From the 1970s on, this kind of research has traditionally been conducted at sites of limited area size (10 – 1,000 ha), selected by specific terrain criteria (catchment areas of small rivers and lakes) and preferably in semi-natural areas with protection status (“LTER sites”). These LTER sites were organised in national and continental networks. The research topics focused on scientific questions like primary production or material cycles.


At the beginning of the 21st century an intensive discussion started about giving a future focus to existing and intended LTER networks. Most European countries possess a multitude of infrastructures, projects and research units with relevance to LTER, but normally no strategic alignment, and they do not use synergies. This fact is deplored in a report by the European Environment Agency, which stresses the immense importance of efficiently combining ecosystem monitoring and ecosystem research to detect environmental problems at an early stage. Such early detection is the basis for sustainable development of which the precautionary principle is a key element. The research strategy of the European Union takes this into account by supporting several major projects within the 6th and 7th Framework Programmes in order to prepare an appropriate setting for research activities (ALTER-Net, Infrastructure Initiative of the EC).

LTSER (Long-term Socio-economic and Ecosystem Research)

Broadening the meaning of the term ecosystem is central to all innovation processes within LTER. The aim is to integrate aspects of society, the economy, public opinion and land use history. The working title LT(S)ER is a symbol for traditional ecosystem research enhanced by the human factor. Spatial reference has to be provided by areas – or “regions” - with a consistent land use history and a comprehensive set of socio-economic information. In Austria, the term “region” (as in the region of “Eisenwurzen”) covers these aspects. The whole landscape becomes the focus of research interests.

LTSER Platforms

The challenge is to develop selected regions into target areas for integrated research across a wide range of scientific disciplines, with the close interaction of the local population, regional managers and decision makers (LTSER Platforms). The selection criteria for LTSER Platform regions include: a maximum of existing infrastructure, partners interested in co-operation and the existence of long-term data providing a basis for future research projects. In Austria two regions – ”High Alps“ (Oetztal Alps and Stubai Alps) and ”Eisenwurzen“ (Northern Limestone Alps including parts of the federal provinces of Lower Austria, Upper Austria and Styria) – were selected. These regions are the core elements of the Austrian LTER network and Austria’s contribution to various other continental or global networks (ALTER-Net, LTER-Europe and ILTERN).


The main objective of research platforms is to elaborate a scientific basis for sustainable regional development by taking into account regional characteristics and user groups as well as the general conditions created by global and social changes and national economic areas.