Ecological Research at the DOE Parks
The seven DOE research parks provide ideal settings to
study the nature of present and future environmental consequences
stemming from the Department's mission. Environmental research and
education on these DOE sites include--
- Long-term observations of climate, animal and plant
populations, and physical changes--in some cases extending over several
decades--to determine successional patterns of biota and soils resulting
from energy and weapons activities and natural disturbances such as
floods, drought, and fires.
- Research on ecosystem dynamics, contaminant
transport, bioremediation, model development, and theory validation,
often utilizing the long-term data sets that have been developed.
- Establishment of ParkNet, an interactive network
among the seven research parks for cross-site synthesis and analysis, to
determine environmental trends and processes across major ecoregions
ranging from arid and semiarid desert to tallgrass prairie, deciduous
forest, and cypress swamp.
- Education of grade-school and high-school students
and the general public about the ecosystem and interactions among
humans, plants, animals, and soils at DOE sites.
- Training of undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral
students and faculty in environmental research related to site-specific,
regional, national, and global issues.
- Collaboration and coordination among local, regional,
and national public organizations, state and federal government
programs, schools, universities, and private institutes that are
concerned with environmental preserves and their appropriate use.
Most of the land on the research parks is undeveloped,
with minimal cultivation and almost no human residents; therefore, the
parks function as quasi-natural areas and provide some
exceptionally long-term data sets. To take advantage of the long history
of research, the available data sets, and the experience of
investigators at the parks, several computational and synthesis
workshops have been held to analyze and synthesize data across the
network of parks. Workshop topics included comparison of population
diversity and population dynamics, multiple landscape scales and
patterns, paleoecological rates of change, and bird population
comparisons. Data analysis from the workshop on bird populations
demonstrated the value of the research parks as sanctuaries for wild
birds in shrub-steppe and grassland ecoregions, where the biodiversity
and abundance of populations was much greater on ecosystems located
inside the research parks compared with the same ecosystem types located
The parks exhibit differences in biomass and
productivity of several orders of magnitude. Therefore, the network
approach to analysis is valuable for identifying gradients across
geographic regions, as well as differences between ecosystems set aside
as refuges and those more open to human use.