SAEON gears up to host ILTER's inaugural Open Science Meeting

The 1st Open Science Meeting of the International Long-Term Ecological Research Network (ILTER), will take place in October 2016, in the Kruger National Park and the South African LTER network is preparing to welcome scientists from around the world to discuss long-term ecosystem and socio-ecological research. Ahead of the event, Johan Pauw, Managing Director of the host network, SAEON, explains ILTER and the purpose of the conference.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) of the United States of America had the foresight to initiate a Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) programme in 1980 through offering five-year research grants to universities on a competitive basis.

The programme was established to study environmental change and to inform environmental management. The US-LTER currently has 26 LTER sites covering the landscape and ecosystems of the USA, as well as the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

Realising the inter-connectedness of earth and environmental systems around the globe, the NSF then launched the International Long-Term Ecological Research Network (ILTER), a truly global network which today has 43 active member countries with hundreds of research sites across the Globe.

Most ILTER members are - like the South African Environmental Observation Network, SAEON - national or regional networks of scientists engaged in long-term, site-based ecological and socio-economic research (known as LTER or LTSER). They have expertise in the collection, management and analysis of long-term environmental data. Together they are responsible for creating and maintaining a large number of unique long-term datasets.


ILTER's vision is a world in which science helps prevent and solve environmental and socioecological problems. ILTER can contribute to solving international ecological and related socio-economic problems through question and problem-driven research, with a unique ability to design collaborative, site-based projects, compare data from a global network of sites and detect global trends.

"Advances in electronic connectivity, computing capacity and data archiving have boosted the potential of ILTER to become the single most important feeder research network for other global environmental research networks and policy platforms."
- Johan Pauw, MD, SAEON

Traditionally, ILTER holds an Annual General Meeting (AGM) which rotates between member countries and includes a science session, part of which is dedicated to the network science of the member country. Over the years, several other ILTER science meetings were held as subsets of larger ecological research conferences such as INTECOL and the All Scientists Meeting of the US-LTER.

First Open Science Meeting

The initiative to turn the 2016 "AGM" into the first Open Science Meeting (OSM) of ILTER has been bubbling for some years and after having been agreed in 2014 during a voyage in the Beagle Channel of Chile, it is now set to become a reality. The first OSM will be held in South Africa's Kruger National Park from 9 to 13 October, followed by a two-day "AGM" or Coordinating Committee meeting.

The OSM's purpose is to advance LTER globally through sharing scientific approaches and results and thereby to create opportunities for networked cross-continental research programmes.

Advances in electronic connectivity, computing capacity and data archiving have boosted the potential of ILTER to become the single most important feeder research network for other global environmental research networks and policy platforms. For these reasons, the ILTER OSM will include data and information management topics and will also involve 11 other global networks, including the Group on Earth Observations - Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON), Future Earth and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), to foster better relations and role playing in support of global change science.

Conference theme

Some 300 participants from 35 countries have registered to attend the 1st ILTER OSM under the umbrella theme of Long-Term Ecosystem Research for sustainability under global changes - Findings and challenges of ILTER from local to global scales.

1st ILTER OSM 2016 - Rhinos

The conference is divided into eight subthemes, which will be addressed by 142 presenters:

  • Nitrogen impacts on ecosystem structure and function
  • Carbon and water cycles under climate change
  • Towards sustainable usage of ecosystem services (local, regional and global)
  • Drivers of biodiversity across scales
  • Data integration and interoperability linking global scale ecosystem research and environmental monitoring
  • Linking local, regional and global Earth system observations and models
  • Long-term studies of population dynamics
  • Long-term changes in nutrient cycling.


The conference is much more than a series of research reports. Some 30 additional contributions ranging from keynote speeches, network position papers and workshop sessions were included to raise the OSM to a level where globally shared scientific and organisational issues will be actively deliberated and advanced among the global change research community.

Prior to the conference a number of delegates will have the privilege of joining five field trips to various SAEON LTER sites.

The 1st ILTER OSM is facilitated by a joint sponsorship of the South African Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation. SAEON, a leading ILTER member, was the catalyst and local organiser of the event. Many members of LTER-Europe will be present.

Further information on the OSM can be found here.

[Adapted from an original article by Johan Pauw, Managing Director, SAEON]