NEON Debuts Monthly News Recap Featuring Top Ecological Breakthroughs

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Dec. 3, 2019) – The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) announced today the debut release of its ‘NEON Spotlight’ – a monthly selection of  groundbreaking projects from the program’s 81 sites across the country. NEON is a continental-scale ecological observation facility, sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and operated by Battelle since 2016. The goal of the NEON program is to provide high-quality, consistently generated data—free and available to all users—that will enable scientists, researchers, and students to address critical questions and understand changes in ecosystem composition over time. The project’s comprehensive data, spatial extent and remote sensing technology will enable the user community to tackle new questions on an unprecedented scale.

The highlighted NEON research projects from October 2019 include:

  • Will Pearse of Utah State University is using NEON data to quantify the roles of different variables in the assembly of ecological communities. He and his students are working to build better models of community assembly that will enable them to predict the species that will occur in different ecosystems, the traits that these species will have, and how changes in climate may impact species spread and diversity in the future. The results could inform predictions of the spread of invasive species and pest and pathogen outbreaks.


  • Dr. Xi Yang, a professor at the University of Virginia, tracked the mortality rate of nearly 2 million trees in California over 8 years, showing that tree height is the strongest predictor of mortality during extreme drought. Large trees die at twice the rate of small trees, and environmental gradients of temperature, water and competition control the intensity of the height-mortality relationship. These findings suggest that future persistent drought may have widespread adverse impacts on the largest trees on Earth.


  • The NSF awarded a four-year, $780,000 macrosystems grant to Dr. Kevin McCluney, assistant professor of biological sciences at Bowling Green State University to fund research on the extent to which birds’ migratory patterns, wind, and climate link 25 prairie playas in North Dakota, Kansas, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico. This project will also study how invertebrates in this large system of wetlands change over time. The researchers chose these playas based on their proximity to five NEON sites across the Great Plains.

“At its heart, the NEON program is about answering big questions in ecology. The geographic and temporal scale of NEON will enable researchers to explore questions about ecosystem changes that have been difficult to examine until now,” said Mike Kuhlman, NEON program director. “The projects we are  highlighting in our new monthly ‘NEON Spotlight’  are selected to illustrate the innovative  use of NEON data by scientists around the country, and Battelle is proud to conduct such an ambitious program.”

Read the latest NEON Spotlight.

To learn more about NEON, visit

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Dec 03, 2019


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