In the face of global change it was an important step to understand that complexity and persistence of environmental problems emerge from continuous interplay between nature and society. In consequence, new approaches to nature conservation and management need to refer to interdisciplinary, long-term, and multi-scale research, incorporating traditional knowledge and modern technologies to achieve sustainability. They also need to address a variety of drivers to environmental change and provide tangible results that could be implemented through regional consultancy and local participation.
Established in the seventies, LTER networks were mainly focused on ecological phenomena that could be investigated at the local level (site-level), but supported the interpretation of larger scale processes. To support fundamental research on ecosystem processes, the selection of sites favoured natural or semi-natural ecosystems with core study topics being primary production, population ecology, biogeochemical cycles, organic matter dynamics, disturbances and biodiversity. The recent shifts in the ecological research and management paradigms were considered and incorporated in the design of the emerging LTER-Europe as a “next-generation network”, which consists of traditional LTER sites (local level) and LTSER platforms (sub-regional and landscape level). LTSER platforms are intended to serve as hot spot regions for socio-ecological research, to inter alia improve the knowledge base for efficient nature conservation and management.
The development of LTER-Europe owes much to the European Commission's Framework 6 project, ALTER-Net (A Long-Term Biodiversity, Ecosystem and Awareness Research Network). ALTER-Net was a five year project (2004-2009) which aimed to integrate European biodiversity research capacity. The development of a single European LTER network was one of the main objectives of ALTER-Net. The project was the main driver for the development of key elements such as: criteria for sites, the LTSER platform concept, the governance structure of LTER-Europe, recommended variables for harmonised monitoring and integrated data management. ALTER-Net helped formally launch LTER-Europe in 2007, at a meeting by Lake Balaton, Hungary. ALTER-Net continues as an active network of European research organisations.