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All ecosystems on earth will be impacted to some extent by climate change, and more frequent and severe droughts are forecast for many regions. Terrestrial ecosystems are known to vary dramatically in their responses to drought, and understanding why there are such big differences is very important for predicting the impacts of drought in a region or across North America. To effectively forecast how terrestrial ecosystems such as deserts, grasslands, and forests will respond to drought, ecologists must first study how each system responds to drought of a given severity, and then improve existing models by incorporating the factors that cause the large variation that has been seen in response to drought in past studies. Traditional site-based research by a single investigator working at a given site cannot provide this knowledge, as different methods are used in different studies. Coordinated experimental networks, with identical protocols and comparable measurements, are ideally suited for comparative studies at regional to global scales. This project will establish the Drought-Net Research Coordination Network to advance understanding of the determinants of terrestrial ecosystem responses to drought by bringing together an international group of scientists to conduct three complementary research coordination activities: 1) planning and coordinating new research using standardized measurements to leverage the value of existing drought experiments across the globe, 2) finalizing the design and facilitating the establishment of a new international network of coordinated drought experiments, and 3) training highly motivated graduate students to conduct synthetic and network-level research through Distributed Graduate Seminars focused on drought. Merging data from these activities will be an important activity conducted by Drought-Net participants in all career stages, particularly graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

Drought has social, human health, and economic impacts for people in the United States and around the world. Because climate change may increase the frequency or severity of drought, understanding the effects that droughts have on the sustainability of forests and grasslands is becoming an urgent issue. Drought-Net will focus on establishing international collaborations among researchers who study these challenges. The Distributed Graduate Seminars will train the next generation of global change scientists in collaborative synthetic and network-level research, with emphasis on increasing the involvement of underrepresented groups and geographic regions. Open calls for participation in network events and network-related products (datasets, newsletters, papers, reports, etc.) will be posted on the Drought-Net website, to encourage access by the broader scientific community and the general public. Finally, Drought-Net will partner with the "Ask-A-Biologist" program at Arizona State University to create articles and companion activities centered around drought impacts on terrestrial ecosystems. With its large Web footprint of 1.5 million visitors per year and links to science educators, broader impacts will be extended into the area of K-12 and life-long learners.


National Science Foundation, Division of Environmental Biology


May 2014 — April 2019