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Ecological Research

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 19–34 | Cite as

The International Long-Term Ecological Research–East Asia–Pacific Regional Network (ILTER-EAP): history, development, and perspectives

  • Eun-Shik Kim
  • Yongyut Trisurat
  • Hiroyuki Muraoka
  • Hideaki Shibata
  • Victor Amoroso
  • Bazartseren Boldgiv
  • Kazuhiko Hoshizaki
  • Abd Rahman Kassim
  • Young-Sun Kim
  • Hong Quan Nguyen
  • Nobuhito Ohte
  • Perry S. Ong
  • Chiao-Ping Wang
Special Feature: Current Topics in Ecology Biodiversity and Its Ecological Functions in East-Asia and Pacific Region: Status and Challenges

Abstract

There are growing needs to broaden and deepen our multi-faceted understanding of the ecosystems, and the networks of Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) can play significant roles in fostering and applying ecosystem studies at regional and global scales. The International LTER Network (ILTER) is organized as a global network of field research sites and scientists to address current ecological issues such as biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation within a globally changing environment. The ILTER East Asia–Pacific Regional Network (ILTER-EAP) is one of the four constituent ILTER regional networks. Since 1995, ILTER-EAP has been developed to promote data sharing, research collaborations and capability building in the science and to bridge gaps between societal needs and scientific imperatives on concerns in the Asia–Pacific Region. Currently, ILTER-EAP comprises nine formal ILTER members and two associate networks. Their activities involve long-term and multiple-site observations of structural, functional and developmental aspects of ecosystems, data sharing, and bridging society and ecological science. This paper presents a review of the activities of ILTER-EAP, focusing on its: (1) vision and the development following its inception, (2) scientific activities and major outputs related to selected thematic areas, (3) contributions from ILTER-EAP to the international initiatives, and (4) future challenges and opportunities relating to its development and role in facilitating regional and global research collaborations. Accordingly, regional research questions were identified that could be most effectively addressed by opening up a common research platform, integrated data management system and the network science, which is open to all interested parties.

Keywords

Biodiversity Carbon cycle Ecohydrology Global in situ network Nitrogen cycle 

Introduction

In the current context of changing environment, there are growing needs to broaden and deepen our multi-faceted understanding of ecosystems, to produce knowledge about these systems, and to deliver information to scientific and social communities. For instance, the global distribution of various ecosystems under different climatic conditions (Chapin et al. 2002) and the heterogeneous impacts of climate change (Collins et al. 2013) are prompting ecosystem studies at regional and global scales. Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) networks can play significant roles in fulfilling such research needs, as the activities of US-LTER clearly demonstrate (US-LTER 2007).

The International Long-Term Ecological Research (ILTER) Network was established in 1993 as an output of the international meeting on long-term ecological research networking convened by the US-LTER in Estes Park, Colorado, in the United States. Its objective is to develop worldwide LTER sites, along with research programs, standardized sampling methods, outreach and information management (Nottrott et al. 1994). As of July 2017, the ILTER Network encompassed 44 member networks spanning all of the world’s continents [see ESM, and see also the Dynamic Ecological Information System (DEIMS) for details (https://data.lter-europe.net/deims/)].

The research activities of ILTER networks at local, national/territorial, regional, and global levels center on many questions that can be addressed through long-term studies. Relevant research themes include not just on basic ecological topics (e.g., population and community dynamics, evolutionary ecology, productivity, hydrology, and nutrient cycles), but also applied/integrated ecological and/or socio-ecological themes (e.g., climate changes, pollutions, plant and animal invasion, human land-use, ecosystem resilience and sustainability, and ecosystem services). Along the lines of six frameworks set by the Integrative Science for Society and the Environment (ISSE) as the basic framework for research (US-LTER 2007; see ESM for detailed information), ILTER has set the ILTER strategic plan, which recognizes challenges of ecological studies, and has suggested the following research trends to be tackled by the communities: climate changes, sustainable development, biodiversity loss and sustainable use of resources, ecosystem management and environmental hazards and disasters (ILTER 2006). More recently, ILTER has placed emphasis on fostering information exchanges between the many experts involved in LTER, and other stakeholders. Accordingly, ILTER agreed to organize an Open Sciences Meeting (OSM) every 3 years, starting in 2016. More than 300 delegates from around the globe attended the first meeting, held in October 2016 in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

With the development of the ILTER Network, the International Long-Term Ecological Research East Asia–Pacific (ILTER-EAP) Regional Network was established in 1995 (see ESM for details). ILTER-EAP has subsequently evolved to encompass nine ILTER member networks (as of July 2017; Table 1) and two associate networks (Laos and Vietnam), and has organized three committees (Science, Information Management, and Education and Outreach committees). This article is intended to generate and facilitate discussions between science- and user-communities in the East Asia–Pacific region by sharing the scientific knowledges, history, motivation, and perspectives of the ILTER-EAP and by encouraging participation in local collaborations and regional and global biodiversity and ecosystem researches. Specifically, we review key activities and achievements of ILTER-EAP and its member networks. We subsequently outline on-going challenges and future opportunities relating to these activities that can be defined and addressed by seeking the involvement and contributions of all scientific communities and stakeholders.
Table 1

Key details on ILTER-EAP regional member networks

No

Name of ILTER-EAP member network

Acronym

Year of initiation

Number of LTER sites

1

Chinese Ecosystem Research Network

CERN

1995

42

2

Korea LTER Network

KLTER

1995

10

3

Taiwan Ecological Research Network

TERN-Taiwan

1995

9

4

Mongolian LTER Network

Mongolian LTER

1997

1

5

Japan LTER Network

JaLTER

2006

57

6

Thailand LTER Network

Thailand LTER

2006

2

7

Philippines LTER Network

PhiLTERnet

2006

14

8

Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network of Australia

TERN-Australia

2009

28

9

Malaysia LTER Network

Malaysia LTER

2010

1

10

Lao PDR LTER Network

Laos LTER

Associated

11

Vietnam LTER Network

Vietnam LTER

Associated

 

Total

  

164

LTER Long-Term Ecological Research, ILTER-EAP International Long-Term Ecological Research Network, East Asia and Pacific regional network

Source: ILTER-DEIMS (the Dynamic Ecological Information System) (https://data.lter-europe.net/deims)

Note: “associated” indicates the status as ‘associate network of ILTER-EAP’

Structure of ILTER-EAP regional network

Figure 1 and Table 1 depict the development of the ILTER-EAP Network. Especially after the 1970s, the number of research sites in the EAP region increased from what was originally a mere handful. During this phase, the Chinese Ecosystem Research Network (CERN) was the leading member network not just in terms of the number of its sites but also its coverage of ecosystems (Fig. 2). It now has 42 sites [15 agricultural, 10 forest, 8 aquatic (lake, coastal and wetland), 6 desert, 2 grassland, and 1 urban ecosystems] accumulated over a 26-year development period (Li et al. 2015). The Japan Long-Term Ecological Research network (JaLTER), established in 2006, has 57 sites (21 core and 36 associate sites; see also Enoki et al. 2014 for a detailed history of networks in Japan). Though ILTER-EAP was established 15 years after US-LTER, several ILTER-EAP sites had been conducting long-term ecological researches even before the official ILTER-EAP’s establishment. These sites include the Teshio Experimental Forest in Japan (1912), the Victorian Alpine Plot Network in Australia (1944), the Shapotou Desert Research and Experiment Station in China (1955), and the Kok Ma Watershed Research Station in Thailand (1965). Details of the member networks of ILTER-EAP are provided in ESM.
Fig. 1

Development of the ILTER-EAP (International Long-Term Ecological Research Network—East Asia and Pacific Regional Network). Please see Table 1 for the names of the LTER member networks. TERN Australia Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network of Australia, CERN Chinese Ecosystem Research Network, JaLTER Japan Long-Term Ecological Research network, KLTER Korea Long-Term Ecological Research network, LTER Long-Term Ecological Research network, PhiLTERnet Philippines Long-Term Ecological Research network, TERN Taiwan Taiwan Ecological Research network. Note: The ILTER-EAP regional network was officially established in 1995.

Source: ILTER-DEIMS (https://data.lter-europe.net/deims)

Fig. 2

The geographical distribution of ILTER-EAP sites. For the legend, please see Table 1 and Fig. 1.

Source: ILTER-DEIMS (https://data.lter-europe.net/deims)

There are currently 164 sites located in nine official ILTER member networks within the EAP region (Table 1). Of these sites, 153 sites are “accredited” within the ILTER Dynamic Ecological Information Management System database (ILTER-DEIMS, https://data.lter-europe.net/deims/) (Fig. 2). To effectively address scientific challenges, more research sites should be established in marine, freshwater, savanna, desert and alpine ecosystems, which are currently poorly represented within the network. Additional sites in urban and agricultural systems should also be included to enable integrated socio-ecological research to be conducted and to address current environmental issues as well as human needs. The 153 accredited sites of ILTER-EAP are located at 43.1°S–51.7°N latitude and 80.7°–153.1°E longitude at 0–4500 m a.s.l., with Lhasa (within CERN) located at the highest altitude (Fig. 2). These sites also cover the wide annual precipitation and temperature ranges within the region (Table 2) and comply with ILTER’s classification scheme. They comprise one-fourth of all World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-classified eco-regions within the EAP region (Olson et al. 2001). However, the current ILTER-EAP sites cover only about half of the region’s altitudinal range found (0–8848 m). Consequently, we recommend the inclusion of more sites in Tibet and Nepal to accommodate high mountain ecosystems and cross-site research.
Table 2

Characteristics of ILTER-EAP sites

Variable

CERN

KLTER

TERN-Taiwan

Mongolian LTERa

Thailand LTER

JaLTER

PhiLTERnet

TERN-Australia

Malaysia LTERa

ILTER-EAP sites

EAP region

Altitude of monitoring (m)

 Min

3

19

18

1650

87

0

121

25

3

0

 Max

4494

1025

2450

1900

380

1502

2806

1783

4494

8848

 Mean

868

406

918

1730

233.5

368

1092

395

374

635

1018

Annual minimum temperature (°C)

 Min

− 27.3

− 14.7

1

12.6

− 15.2

6.9

− 0.48

− 34.2

− 41.4

 Max

10.6

− 1.2

13.2

17.7

1.6

20.2

17.7

20.2

25.4

 Mean

– 7.8

− 7.9

8.3

− 34.2

15.1

− 4.8

16

16.45

19.5

–0.8

− 30

Annual maximum temperature (°C)

 Min

16.8

22.6

16.9

35.9

22.7

18.4

18.2

16.7

− 8

 Max

34.6

29.9

31.7

36.4

31.4

33.1

38.8

38.8

41.9

 Mean

29

27.2

26.1

16.7

36.1

27.5

27.1

30.3

30.6

28.3

29.3

Annual mean temperature (°C)

 Min

0

5.3

10

25.4

5.1

12.3

4.7

− 0.8b

− 22.7

 Max

22.9

12.3

23.2

27.6

16.7

26.3

27.7

27.7

29.5

 Mean

11.6

10.4

17.9

− 8

26.5

11.1

21.4

18.4

24.9

14

13.8

Annual precipitation (mm)

 Min

34

1196

1769

1127

1022

2301

214

34

12

 Max

1704

1767

3616

1184

3209

3219

2082

3616

7628

 Mean

804

1483

2507

354

1155

1694

2720

1079

2115

1446

858

Sources: ASTER Global Digital Elevation Map (https://asterweb.jpl.nasa.gov/gdem.asp); WorldClim—Global Climate Data (http://www.worldclim.org/)

LTER Long-Term Ecological Research, ILTER-EAP International Long-Term Ecological Research Network—East Asia and Pacific Regional Network

aOnly one LTER site for Mongolia and Malaysia

bthe minimum mean temp was derived from LTER site in Mongolia

ILTER-EAP member networks cover a large climate gradients encompassing diverse geographical features and cultures. A variety of voluntary and bottom-up efforts have sought to promote collaborative and capacity-building opportunities at local and regional levels. ILTER-EAP organizes a biennial regional conference to share new information and knowledge about ecosystems within the EAP region, as well as to discuss further research collaborations among the member networks and participating researchers. Meetings of the Coordinating Committee are also held biennially during the regional conferences to discuss the issues of concern for ILTER-EAP’s member networks and the committees. Besides organizing the biennial conference, ILTER-EAP has formed three committees, namely Science, Information Management, and Education and Outreach Committees to facilitate its activities. Details about the history and function of these committees are presented in ESM 1 and Table S1.

Scientific achievements and key activities of ILTER-EAP regional network

Ecosystems in Asia and the Pacific regions are distributed under a range of climatic conditions extending from boreal to tropical regions. Ecological research in these regions provides us with knowledge on the relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem dynamics, which is critical for understanding of current environmental changes. There are 18 categorized research topics covered in the ILTER-DEIMS database. These include biology, chemistry, conservation ecology, environmental science, and hydrology and management, etc. (https://data.lter-europe.net/deims/site/list). Within ILTER-EAP, various studies have been conducted according to the priorities and interests of the research groups. Therefore, the distribution of research topics among the LTER networks in the region is uneven (Fig. 3). Four thematic areas, namely, biodiversity, carbon and nitrogen cycles, and ecohydrology were identified as research areas of intense focus at the 11th biennial conference held in Vietnam (October 2016). The planetary boundaries framework (Rockström et al. 2009; Steffen et al. 2015) indicates that biodiversity loss and nitrogen pollution are among the urgent global environmental problems, and that both issues have already exceeded the safe-operating capacity of our planet. Hence, research conducted on biodiversity and the nitrogen cycle should be given the highest priority as focus areas across the entire ILTER Network. The carbon cycle and ecohydrology research are also crucial within the region as they underpin the fundamental processes of ecosystem services and interactions between the climate and biosphere. Significant research outputs and outcomes, and on-going activities, are briefly discussed below.
Fig. 3

Categories of ILTER-EAP research topics under investigation. For the legend, please see Table 1 and Fig. 1. Source: ILTER-DEIMS (https://data.lter-europe.net/deims). Notes: biology: physiology, phenology, taxonomy, biodiversity, etc.; ecology: terrestrial, population, ecosystem ecology, etc.; chemistry: air, deposition, sediment, water chemistry; history: land use history; hydrology: forest hydrology, ecohydrology; management: fisheries, agriculture, aquaculture, silviculture; meteorology: climatology

Biodiversity

Biodiversity is being threatened with extinction because of the momentum associated with an increasing population that drives the expansion of extensive agriculture, oil palm and rubber plantations, the illegal wildlife trade, aquaculture, and other forms of unsustainable resource uses (Maxwell et al. 2016; UNEP 2016). The Asia–Pacific region is home to: (1) 7 of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world (Mittermeier et al. 1997); (2) 14 of the 36 global biodiversity hotspots (Myers et al. 2000; Myers 2003; Mittermeierm et al. 2011; CEPF 2017); and (3) 9 of the top 20 most populated countries, with an estimated total of 3.75 billion people (Worldometers 2017). To address the extinction crises facing Southeast Asia and to devise the possible critical solutions for the survival of biodiversity and the human species, ILTER-EAP member networks have established long-term permanent plots to monitor biodiversity in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems, across latitudinal gradients (e.g., Sodhi et al. 2004). However, further studies are needed to elucidate how climatic and societal changes from the recent and historical past have led to changes in ecosystems and their component biodiversity (see also Galindon et al. 2018 in this special issue). Comparative studies should also be conducted on the 14 biodiversity hotspots, examining how they have responded to changes and threats such as species loss, disruption of species assemblages, loss of habitats, and the role of refugees, among other issues.

All of the member networks study forest ecosystems, whereas freshwater and marine ecosystems are confined to five member networks (Table 3). Recently, four permanent forest dynamics plots in the Malaysia, Philippines and Taiwan LTERs have contributed to a global understanding of why tropical forests have so many trees and tree species compared to other forest systems (see LaManna et al. 2017), thus enabling better management of tropical forests. These four LTER sites are part of the Center for Tropical Forest Science and Forest Global Earth Observatories (CTFS-ForestGEO) (see http://www.forestgeo.si.edu/; Table S2). Biodiversity research in the EAP region faces many challenges which ILTER-EAP is well positioned to address. Thematic issues that could be addressed are resiliency of biodiversity and ecosystems services in the light of catastrophic disturbances and climate change. The four LTER sites included in the CTFS-ForestGEO and the TSUNAGARI initiative (Nakaoka et al. 2018 in this special issue) could provide appropriate models for demonstrating how cross-site analysis and scientific information exchange in the ILTER-EAP could be achieved. Synthesis analysis should also be advanced along the region’s geographical and climatic gradients (Takyu et al. 2005).
Table 3

Biodiversity and ecosystems studied across the ILTER-EAP regional network

ILTER-EAP member networks

Forest

Grassland

Lakes/river

Marine

Total number of sites

CERN

39

KLTER

   

10

JaLTER

48

Malaysia LTER

   

1

Mongolian LTER

 

1

PhiLTERnet

  

14

TERN-Australia

26

TERN-Taiwan

 

9

Thailand LTER

   

2

Total

9

4

5

5

150

LTER Long-Term Ecological Research, ILTER-EAP International Long-Term Ecological Research Network, East Asia and Pacific regional network. See Table 1 for the acronym of ILTER-EAP member networks

Source: https://data.lter-europe.net/deims/global-sites-map)

Major ecosystems were provided for 150 of the total of 167 sites

The mark (◯) indicates the ecosystem types that these research sites cover

Carbon cycle

Primary production and the resulting carbon cycle of ecosystems (carbon metabolism), and carbon exchange between ecosystems and the atmosphere are crucial to the sustainability of biodiversity and ecosystems, and the Earth system (Chapin et al. 2002). The temporal and geographical dynamics of the carbon cycle is a central theme of Earth observations and environmental sciences, as they change interactively with local, regional and global climate and societal changes that further influence the future Earth system (IPCC 2013). Ecological processes of the carbon cycle such as photosynthesis, biomass accumulation of plants, decomposition of soil organic matter, and their responses to environmental conditions are fundamental aspects revealing the mechanisms of ecosystems (Chapin et al. 2002).

For example, tropical rainforests play a critical role in regulating the world climate. In Pasoh Forest Reserve in Peninsular Malaysia, forest biomass was found to have substantially changed at annual scales in the 1990’s (Hoshizaki et al. 2004). Kosugi et al. (2012) elucidated the responses of CO2, water and heat exchanges to changing climatic conditions for multiple years (2003–2009) that included an El Nino event, and their findings on tree water use were linked to the belowground profile of tree root biomass at the study site (Niiyama et al. 2010). The findings obtained at this site are vital for understanding how the tropical rainforests in Southeast Asia will respond to future climate change. By contrast, soil water is a key limiting factor of the carbon cycle in Australian eucalypt forests (Fest et al. 2009, 2015). Forest ecosystems in warm and cool temperate regions are characterized by seasonal variations in their ecological structure and functions. Long-term studies conducted at the Takayama site in Japan revealed the seasonal and inter-annual changes in Net Ecosystem Production in a cool-temperate deciduous broadleaf forest based on observations of CO2 flux and ecological surveys of carbon sequestration (Ohtsuka et al. 2009; Saigusa et al. 2005; Muraoka et al. 2010; Muraoka 2015). Moreover, an ecophysiological study conducted at this site clarified that phenology and summer meteorological conditions resulted in inter-annual variation of Gross Primary Production (Muraoka et al. 2010), which is also anticipated in the future (Kuribayashi et al. 2017). The differing responses and controlling factors among forest, riparian and steppe ecosystems in northern Mongolia highlight the importance of considering potential biome shifts in C cycling modeling to generate more accurate predictions of landscape-level responses to expected climate change (Sharkhuu et al. 2013).

On-going challenges include to, (1) clarify and predict the interaction between biodiversity change and the carbon cycle, (2) investigate the possible influence of global warming on phenology and the carbon cycle, (3) scaling-up the detailed data and knowledge of carbon cycle processes from plots and landscapes to regions, and (4) assess the regional and global climate change impacts on the carbon cycle and sequestration with a special focus on spatial heterogeneity in the region and teleconnection of climate. Intensive in situ site networks and meta-analysis developed, for example, in Japan (Ito 2008; Saigusa et al. 2010; Kondo et al. 2017), China (Yu et al. 2014, 2016b) and Australia (Lindenmayer et al. 2014; Karan et al. 2016) will aid the community of carbon cycle researchers in evaluating the regional scale responses and addressing geographical gaps of observations. Combined research on CO2 flux and ecological processes around the tower sites by collaborations of AsiaFlux network and LTER networks provide us with mechanistic understanding of atmospheric and biological interactions (e.g. Muraoka and Koizumi 2009; Beringer et al. 2016). Efforts to link in situ studies and satellite remote sensing at these “super-sites” are imperative for operational observations of ecosystem function over a broad spatial scale under climate change conditions (Muraoka and Koizumi 2009; Muraoka et al. 2012; Karan et al. 2016). Open-field warming experiments conducted on terrestrial vegetation are essential for predicting warming effects on organisms and systems and identifying their key indicators (Nakamura et al. 2010; Chung et al. 2013; Liancourt et al. 2015; Sharkhuu et al. 2016; Yamaguchi et al. 2016).

Nitrogen cycle

Nitrogen (N) is a limiting nutrient for many ecosystems, but N-compounds become pollutants when N inputs exceed the nutrient demands of ecosystems. Extensive human consumption of fossil fuels and chemical fertilizers is a significant source of reactive N (all N species except N2) in the environment (Galloway et al. 2004). Excessive N in the environment generates various threats, including pollution of air, water, and soil; increases in greenhouse gases; changes in Net Primary Production (NPP); and loss of biodiversity providing a number of ecosystem services (Sutton et al. 2011). East Asia is one of the regional hotspots where further increases in anthropogenic N pollution and atmospheric N deposition are expected to occur in the next 50 years (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Board 2005). Long-term ecological monitoring and in situ experiments are useful to, (1) detect early warning signs of ecosystem changes, (2) understand N behaviors with its underlying mechanism and driving factors, and (3) predict future ecosystem changes caused by altered N status, enabling the timely provision of possible options/recommendations for public and policy-makers and the public (Chung et al. 2013; Shibata et al. 2015).

Several new findings and valuable information have been reported from various ILTER-EAP sites (Chang et al. 2013, 2017; Tsunogai et al. 2014; Fang et al. 2015; Urakawa et al. 2015, 2016; Yu et al. 2016a). For example, Fang et al. (2015) found that much of the N released into the atmosphere (5.6–30 kgN ha−1 year−1) resulted from microbial denitrification in soil within forest ecosystems in Japan and China. Urakawa et al. (2016) developed a nation-wide database of soil N dynamics in 39 forests including JaLTER sites and analyzed the controlling variables to explain site-to-site differences in the soil N parameters. Chang et al. (2017) found that annual inorganic nitrogen budgets were positively correlated to rainfall quantity, with greater net N exports during the wet warm growing season in tropical and subtropical forests. This has not been found in temperate nor boreal areas.

A forthcoming challenge will be to integrate these findings to facilitate the generation of new general knowledge and theories. The ILTER Nitrogen Initiative, established in 2011 (Shibata et al. 2015), has entailed various activities to foster the N-related ecosystem studies locally, regionally, and globally. The activities include capacity building for next generation. One of these activities of this initiative was the ILTER-N international training course conducted in Hokkaido University (in northern Japan) and the Uryu Experimental Forest (a JaLTER core-site), co-organized by JaLTER, TERN-Taiwan and ILTER in 2016 (details are available at http://shibahideaki.wixsite.com/ilter-n2016). After the training, some participants continued their group work on the global meta-analysis of the N cycle in ecosystems utilizing the database of ILTER Network. East Asia is one of the primary areas experiencing rapid economic development, which results in the creation of industries that are expected to increase N emissions in the environment in upcoming decades. This is another research arena requiring science-based solutions.

Ecohydrology

Studies on ecohydrological processes have two functions examining, (1) how hydrological regimes may impact on ecosystems, and (2) how changes in ecological patterns may alter hydrological cycles (Zalewski et al. 1997; Kundzewicz 2002; Porporato and Rodriguez-Iturbe 2002; Hannah et al. 2004; Zalewski 2015). Given that interactions between hydro-ecological processes and socio–economic development are intertwined, the concept of ecohydrology was proposed as a new paradigm for sustainability (Zalewski 2015; Zalewski et al. 2016). Past and present ecohydrology research conducted at ILTER-EAP sites has focused mainly on monitoring the impacts of ecosystem changes (e.g. deforestation in upper catchment) on flows in down-stream areas. However, ecohydrology research is not commonly included in biodiversity monitoring and carbon cycle studies conducted in the ILTER-EAP communities.

The results of long-term studies on interactions between forests and water discharge conducted at the Huai Kok Ma watershed station in northern Thailand indicated that there was no correlation between the rainfall and the percentage of remaining forest area (Tangtham 1994). Forest clearing has the effect of increasing annual stream flows largely due to reduction in evapotranspiration (ET), but reductions in forest cover do not necessarily lead to dry-season desiccation. In addition, forest clearing results in increasing soil erosion and sediment loads in the stream channels (Tangtham 1994; Walker 2002; Trisurat et al. 2016). Furthermore, the predicted water yield and soil losses are more responsive to changes in rainfall than to the comparable land use change at both small (Trisurat et al. 2016) and large watersheds (Truong et al. 2016). These findings suggest ways to improve future forest management, especially at the headwaters of watersheds (Tani et al. 2012, Trisurat et al. 2016).

Studies on ecohydrology processes, which yield insights into how system processes function, sometimes necessitate the application of complex methods such as isotope techniques. The river basins in the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan were studied using oxygen and hydrogen isotopic compositions (δ18O and δ2H) data obtained from 1278 forest catchments across Japan (Katsuyama et al. 2015). The results showed clear spatial distributions of δ18O and δ2H isoscapes in water based on latitude, elevation, and the mean annual temperature. Moreover, an understanding ecohydrological processes is not limited to the quantification of physical fluxes; it includes the causes of changes such as local anthropogenic disturbances or global and/or regional climatic factors and their interactions. This research dimension remains a major challenge within ecohydrological studies (see also Nguyen et al. 2018; Trisurat et al. 2018 in this special issue).

Ongoing and emerging research questions

Ongoing and newly emerging themes that need to be addressed are: (1) biodiversity loss and resource overexploitation, (2) climate and water resource (quantity and quality) at landscape scale, (3) forest dynamics and C/N cycles associated with inter-ecosystem changes and climate change impacts, (4) matter flow and ecosystem services through vegetation/soil/river/coast interlinkages, and (5) forecasting current and future threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services in the region.

Whereas many researchers are evidently asking these questions worldwide, the advantage offered by the ILTER-EAP community is that particular research questions can be tackled by the “network” of research sites (plots) and research groups across the gradients of environmental conditions and human impacts. Key questions include the following. (1) How do the geographical differences relating to climate and resources influence plant growth and dynamics in terrestrial ecosystems? (2) How does the climate change differently influence ecological behaviors such as plant phenology of ecosystems within the region, thereby influencing biological interactions, the carbon cycle and ecosystem functioning? Moreover, how do such spatially different consequences affect the regional climate? (3) How does the increasing spatial gradient of economic development within the region influence N pollution of soil, air, and water? What are the consequences for biodiversity, ecosystem functions, and their goods and services, and ultimately for the ecosystem resilience to climate change? (4) How do the increasing extreme climatic events associated with climate change, and the land use change by growing demands to ecosystems, influence ecosystem functions such as the carbon cycle, the safety of natural resources, and natural disaster risks? (5) What are the critical aspects of biodiversity and ecosystems within the region that contribute to the sustainability of the Earth systems and global society? Whereas, it is difficult for a few small research groups to address these regional questions, the “network” science will provide a platform and opportunity to do so. A common research protocol that includes mechanisms of data sharing is required to implement these regional scientific studies in an intercultural context of mutual understanding. Moreover, these scientific questions should be shared with ILTER’s other regional networks (Europe, the Americas, and Africa) to foster global ecological research that reflects the heterogeneity of global climate and societal changes. Such research would consequently foster an understanding of the uniqueness of biodiversity and ecosystems in Asia and the Pacific regions.

Challenges and opportunities of ILTER-EAP

The scientific contributions generated through investigations of the research questions highlighted in the previous section are significant outcomes of ILTER-EAP networking over the last two decades. The visions of ILTER-EAP in promoting ecological sciences is based on long-term monitoring and experiments conducted within site-based programs entailing local and regional networking connected to global network, ILTER. Analyses of long-term ecological data across the sites and regions not only facilitate an understanding of past phenomena and current conditions, but they also to enable the prediction of future changes of key ecological features and dynamics. The strength of ILTER-EAP lies in its networking activities encompassing sites and researchers having long-term data at local and regional scales. Possible weaknesses are a lack of sufficient financial resources that can support the entire program and limited standard protocols for ecosystem monitoring and data analysis under varying conditions relating to infrastructures, facilities, and research resources within networks. The key challenges and opportunities for ILTER-EAP in the coming decades, from various perspectives, are presented below.

Joint research across sites and the linkage to society

Whereas Asia and the Pacific regions are widely recognized as being important areas for biodiversity conservation, they are also subject to a wide range of natural and economic drivers, with labor forces and food security being critical considerations for sustaining a growing world population. Conversely, overexploitation of natural resources and increasing vulnerability to natural hazards including climate extremes, will predictably cause degradation of biodiversity and ecosystem functions in this region. The diverse setting of LTER sites, spanning varying natural and social conditions, are conductive to the design of powerful international collaborative research focusing on assessments and predictions of ecosystems and biodiversity behaviors under conditions of gradual long-term pressure as well as extreme short-pulse pressures caused by climatic impacts. Many of the individual research projects have contributed various findings, as highlighted in the previous sections. However, to date, joint research programs implemented across ILTER-EAP member networks and countries have not adequately addressed regional research questions for advancing general theory. For example, some members of ILTER-EAP (i.e., Australia and Japan) are now collaborating with other ILTER member networks in a joint research program entailing data integration across continents to understand changes in biodiversity and the carbon cycle associated with climate change [PI: Mike Liddell, Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN), Australia].

Socio-ecology is a new approach for understanding interactions between human and ecological systems (Haberl et al. 2016). Socio-ecological studies can extend beyond specific local topics, accounting for broader dimensions that include various modes of economic development, technological innovations, governance/decision-making processes, and climatic variations (Kates et al. 2001; Clark and Dickson 2003; Dearing et al. 2015; Folke et al. 2016; Goulden et al. 2016). For example, Chen et al. (2017) have proposed linking mechanistic and quantitative understandings of ecology and the evolution of vulnerable communities (e.g., coastal systems) with ecosystem functions such as primary production and applying them to frameworks developed for ecosystem management and/or ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction (Eco-DRR). In the LTER context, Collins et al. (2011) developed an analytical framework for conducting integrated, long-term, social-ecological research to better understand the interactions between human behaviors and ecosystem processes. This can lead to insights on social-ecological systems and to solutions to pervasive environmental problems. Adger (2000) illustrated how human-ecological interactions in mangrove forest management in northern Vietnam, by showing that a large part of mangrove forest was lost through land conversion to develop agriculture and aquaculture with a severe reduction of local livelihoods. Makino and Matsuda (2011) proposed an ecosystem-based management framework in the Asia–Pacific region with the aim of fostering social and ecological compatibility. Takeuchi et al. (2016), analyzed the Satoyama landscape (a traditional Japanese rural landscape) as a social-ecological system, found that rebuilding the human–nature relationship solely through local efforts was difficult to achieve. However, most of the existing LTER sites often have poor linkages between their social and ecological components (Haberl et al. 2006). For example, research on social issues is currently being conducted in just two CERN sites (Fig. 3). Thus, there is scope for designing socio-ecological research using an ILTER-EAP platform that emulates the Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research (LTSER) platform already developed within the European LTER network (Haberl et al. 2016) and some US-LTER sites. They include urban ecological research topics, notably flood risks, heat island phenomena, water/soil/air pollution under rapid urbanization, globalization and land complexities within the region (Marcotullio 2003; Yli-Pelkonen and Niemelä 2005; Anderson and Elmqvist 2012; Vihervaara et al. 2013; Haase et al. 2014; Pickett et al. 2016).

Networking, collaborating and linking

Linkages formed between the individual research networks (or sites, groups, and institutions) foster access opportunities for achieving broad and in-depth coverage of various dimensions of natural systems. The advantage of networking in relation to long-term ecological research activities is that it can facilitate access to data and knowledge on focal ecosystems under investigation in individual research site, or groups of the sites, sharing research ideas, and collaborative research conducted in similar or different ecosystems under varying environmental conditions. The findings can then be integrated, leading to a comprehensive understanding of our ecosystems in the region. ILTER-EAP could provide ample opportunities not only for currently engaged researchers within the network, but also for the various external researchers and organizations that have not yet participated in the network to expand their research activities and acquire new insights and knowledges derived from a wide range of ecological studies. Although ILTER is an existing site network of long-term ecological observation to provide research platform for various research programs, but further collaborations, networking, and linkages with other projects and programs would expand their potential to broaden their research themes and/or develop new research agendas, as described below. These further networking and collaboration initiatives would be taken by researchers’ communications at the workshops organized by the LTER networks and ILTER-EAP, or at symposia or relevant conferences. Interested researchers could also contact with the corresponding author of this paper (H. Muraoka; Chair of ILTER-EAP).

The LTER approach is fundamentally in situ observation and monitoring conducted at the research sites. However, linking LTER to the different approaches can lead, synergistically, to an expansion of research opportunities. Linking in situ, airborne, and satellite observations is one key approach for fostering such new research opportunities. Satellite remote sensing data provides information entailing extensive spatial coverage over a 20-years period. Changes detected in land use, vegetation types and density, photosynthetic capacity, and biodiversity (Trisurat and Duengkae 2011) are crucial types of information for ecological research in contexts of climatic and societal changes (e.g., Secades et al. 2014). For instance, the inter-agency partnerships between NEON, the U.S. National Science Foundation, and US-LTER programs, along with support extended by local governments have enabled the use of LiDAR and airborne remote sensing techniques in combination with in situ observations to evaluate ecosystem services, notably large-scale carbon sequestration in the Panama Canal watershed (http://www.stri.si.edu/english/research/sigeo_ctfs/forward.php). Moreover, combining observations of carbon cycle processes with the phenology of terrestrial vegetation have enhanced the possibility of using and validating satellite remote sensing data for exploring environmental responses of biodiversity and ecosystems to climate change (Muraoka et al. 2013; Nasahara and Nagai 2015; “Phenological Eyes Network”). Pilot studies conducted at multiple in situ observation sites may provide the ILTER-EAP and its member networks with deeper knowledge to enable the utilization of remote sensing information for ecological research across Asia and the Pacific regions.

Drawing on the strengths of the LTER Network, notably site-based and long-term observations of diverse ecosystems, efforts have aimed to link ILTER-EAP researchers with various international programs and organizations. Thus, the Asia–Pacific Biodiversity Observation Network (APBON) forged a partnership with ILTER-EAP in 2009 for collaborative research and information-sharing on biodiversity (Table S1; Kim 2012; Ohte et al. 2012). It is widely anticipated that ILTER-EAP will contribute to APBON using various kinds of information and knowledges derived from long-term, site-based research. Moreover, as depicted in Table S2, important potential collaborative partner organizations for ILTER-EAP are the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the International Nitrogen Management System (INMS), the Global Land Programme (GLP), and Future Earth. Such collaborative initiatives could promote research on various socio-ecological and environmental issues that advances the regional and global contributions of ILTER-EAP, drawing on its unique niche (in situ site-based networks across countries). ILTER-EAP has also forged partnerships with academic organizations such as the East Asian Federation of Ecological Societies (EAFES) and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), providing further opportunities to share and exchange research information and findings, and to engage in interactive discussions (Table S3).

Data archiving, sharing and using

Sharing data is critical for addressing the above-mentioned challenges and achieving the success of ILTER-EAP’s programs and activities. An examination of ecological theories and hypotheses critically requires ecological data, and long-term, shared, and archived data are especially valuable resources for advancing ecological understanding. Although many of individual LTER networks in ILTER-EAP have already developed their own database systems, the challenge lies in achieving more public sharing of LTER data from all of the individual LTER sites across the entire network. Despite the numerous efforts of each member network, and of the ILTER-EAP Information Management Committee, the sharing of data, and especially raw data, is still inadequate. Several factors have hindered data sharing within the network. These include: the technical issue of how to make data from heterogeneous sources discoverable and accessible, concerns about the credits and citations, wide variations in funding levels within ILTER-EAP member networks, and marked differences in data management abilities.

To solve the technical problem of data sharing, CERN convened two international workshops in 2008 and 2011 for ILTER information managers to discuss the adoption of the metadata standard as a common regional standard and facilitation of multilingual searches. The consensus within ILTER-EAP was to adopt ecoinformatics, including Ecological Metadata Language (EML; Vanderbilt et al. 2015) as the standard for regional ecological data sharing. The “MetaCat” system, a software tool for data storage, is now being used with EML to create a common repository of metadata and data in Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, Thailand, Philippines and South Korea. Additionally, a prototype system for multilingual data discovery has been tested and translations of keywords for inclusion in the multilingual thesaurus have been translated into Japanese, Korean, Traditional Chinese, and Simplified Chinese (Vanderbilt et al. 2017). Furthermore, TERN-Taiwan has developed a semantics-based data-sharing approach and federation of MetaCat data to integrate existing data and facilitate their discovery (Mai et al. 2011; Lin et al. 2016).

Opportunities aimed at encouraging scientists to open their data have been evident in Japan. With the assistance of the Ecological Society of Japan, JaLTER established a “data paper” category within Ecological Research in 2011. Data published in the data paper are stored in the JaLTER database to provide open data and facilitate data-sharing activities for conducting collaborative research worldwide (e.g. Ishihara et al. 2011; Takamura and Nakagawa 2012; Noda et al. 2014; Urakawa et al. 2015; Nagai and Nasahara 2017).

Engaging, educating and outreaching

Education and outreach are two of the major goals of LTER network activities. However, the issues of how to promote education and public outreach and create opportunities for younger researchers who have not been involved previously in the network remains a key challenges for ILTER-EAP. For example, US LTER Network (2007) pointed out the need for fundamental, long-term, and integrated research to generate a synthetic understanding of highly dynamic social and ecological systems. They further recommended that LTER networks and scientists should consider building intellectual capacities for integration and public engagement to enable future scientists and the public to understand the complexity, nature, and limitations of the common resources. For attaining this goal, they suggested the following strategies: (1) supporting environmental education research focusing on learning progression, curriculum development, and pedagogy that facilitates science literacy; (2) supporting network-level efforts to foster broad participation that is representative of societal diversity; (3) engaging graduate students in inquiry-based science education that integrates socio-ecological disciplines and engages with data; and (4) providing opportunities for graduate students to conduct transdisciplinary research in the context of extended temporal and broad spatial scales.

In meeting these challenges, opportunities exist for engaging more individuals and expanding activities and funding in education and public outreach. These include the following three initiatives that will bridge the gap in LTER education and outreach: (1) developing leadership, organization, and cyber-infrastructure; (2) promoting research and development centering on environmental science literacy and diversity goals, and (3) developing programs for specific constituent groups such as K-12 (from kindergarten to high-school) teachers and administrators, undergraduate and graduate students and professors, and engaged citizen scientists (US-LTER 2007). Increased efforts to serve society by strengthening education and public outreach will have synergistic effects in the development of LTER activities under the “sustainability of research, monitoring, and science” and “governance and infrastructure” categories proposed by Kim and Kim (2011). The linking of research initiatives and training programs could also have synergistic effects, as described above for the ILTER-Nitrogen Initiative (http://shibahideaki.wixsite.com/ilter-n2016). Willing and Walker (2016) recently reported that LTER could have the effect of changing the nature of scientists through their participation in the program.

ILTER-EAP is not a closed network and it can offer programs for different groups, including senior and junior researchers and scholars, who could participate in and engage with the program through the provision of various opportunities such as accessing archived data in the LTER database, collecting samples, and observing data for their own research; attending workshops, seminars and symposiums; and establishing direct contacts with the site managers, committee members, and network chairs. All of these activities are greatly encouraged and appreciated, as they foster future engagements and new collaborations.

Conclusion

Since its establishment in 1995, ILTER-EAP and its individual member networks have contributed to the generation of new knowledge and a better understanding on how ecosystems function under diverse environmental conditions and how they respond to natural and anthropogenic changes. A question that also needs to be asked is how and to what extent such changes influence our society through ecosystem services. During this period, the seeds of research collaborations have been planted and they are now being cultivated, step by step, based on the recognition of promising opportunities within the research network to broaden science and capacity building in the region. In light of lessons learned from these experiences, and the identification of challenges as well as opportunities to considerably advance the network, the pathway to the future of ILTER-EAP is now clearer than ever. ILTER-EAP and its member networks are open to science communities, including institutions, research groups, and individual scientists. A broad and flexible network will generate new opportunities to tackle the scientific questions and their abovementioned applications at regional and global scales, and from the past to the near future of ecosystems.

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors thank Nguyen Kim Loi (Nong Lam University) and Thu Huyen Do (Vietnam National University) for organizing the 11th biennial conference of ILTER-EAP which facilitated the discussion among the networks, Hen-biau King (TERN-Taiwan, former Chair of ILTER and ILTER-EAP) for suggesting the way forward; Yiching Lin and Chau-chin Lin (TERN-Taiwan), Tsutom Hiura (JaLTER), Xiubo Yu (CERN), Michael Liddel (TERN-Australia) for their valuable inputs and comments on a draft of this paper; the ILTER-DEIMS developing team for their contributions to geographical and thematic analyses; and Herbert Haubold (ILTER) for his careful reading of the draft of this manuscript. We thank Atsushi Kume, Masahiro Nakaoka and Yuko Aoshima from Ecological Research for giving us the opportunity to present this paper. We thank the editor and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on our manuscript. Last, this review paper would not have been possible without previous and on-going research conducted by scientists within ILTER-EAP and its member networks.

Supplementary material

11284_2017_1523_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (253 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 253 kb)

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Copyright information

© The Ecological Society of Japan 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eun-Shik Kim
    • 1
  • Yongyut Trisurat
    • 2
  • Hiroyuki Muraoka
    • 3
  • Hideaki Shibata
    • 4
  • Victor Amoroso
    • 5
  • Bazartseren Boldgiv
    • 6
    • 7
  • Kazuhiko Hoshizaki
    • 8
  • Abd Rahman Kassim
    • 9
  • Young-Sun Kim
    • 1
  • Hong Quan Nguyen
    • 10
  • Nobuhito Ohte
    • 11
  • Perry S. Ong
    • 12
  • Chiao-Ping Wang
    • 13
  1. 1.Department of Forestry, Environment, and SystemsKookmin UniversitySeoulKorea
  2. 2.Department of Forest Biology, Faculty of ForestryKasetsart UniversityBangkokThailand
  3. 3.River Basin Research CenterGifu UniversityGifuJapan
  4. 4.Field Science Center for Northern BiosphereHokkaido UniversitySapporoJapan
  5. 5.Center for Biodiversity Research and Extension in Mindanao (CEBREM), Central Mindanao University (CMU)MusuanPhilippines
  6. 6.Ecology Group, Department of Biology, School of Arts and SciencesNational University of MongoliaUlaanbaatarMongolia
  7. 7.Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  8. 8.Department of Biological EnvironmentAkita Prefectural UniversityAkitaJapan
  9. 9.Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM)KepongMalaysia
  10. 10.Center of Water Management and Climate Change, Vietnam National UniversityHo Chi Minh CityVietnam
  11. 11.Biosphere Informatics Laboratory, Department of Social InformaticsKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan
  12. 12.Biodiversity Research Laboratory, Institute of Biology, College of ScienceUniversity of the Philippines DilimanQuezon CityPhilippines
  13. 13.Division of SilvicultureTaiwan Forest Research InstituteTaipeiTaiwan

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