The role of experimental forests and ranges in the development of ecosystem science and biogeochemical cycling research
Forest Service watershed-based Experimental Forests and Ranges (EFRs) have significantly advanced scientific knowledge on ecosystem structure and function through long-term monitoring and experimental research on hydrologic and biogeochemical cycling processes. Research conducted in the 1940s and 1950s began as “classic” paired watershed studies. The emergence of the concept of ecosystem science in the 1950s and 1960s, the passage of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act in the 1970s, the nonpoint source pollution provision enacted in the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, and various other forces led to an increased interest in biogeochemical cycling processes. The ecosystem concept recognized that water, nutrient, and carbon cycles were tightly linked, and interdisciplinary approaches that examined the roles of soil, vegetation, and associated biota, as well as the atmospheric environment, were needed to understand these linkages. In addition to providing a basic understanding, several watershed-based EFRs have been at the core of the development and application of watershed ecosystem analysis to ecosystem management, and they continue to provide science to land managersand policy makers. The relevance and usefulness of watershed-based EFRs will only increase in the coming years. Stressors such as climate change and increased climate variability, invasive and noninvasive insects and diseases, and the pressures of population growth and land-use change increase the value of long-term records for detecting resultant changes in ecosystem structure and function.