U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science

Program for Ecosystem Research

-----   Discovering the ecological implications of climatic change   -----

The DOE Program for Ecosystem Research mission is to produce scientific knowledge about potential effects of climatic change on terrestrial ecosystems. It does this so that decision makers--including the public--can determine if climatic changes associated with fossil-fuel use are "safe" for the environment and society.

Organizational residence

The Program for Ecosystem Research is part of the Office of Biological and Environmental Research, which is part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

Interagency linkages

The program supports the 13-agency U.S. Climate Change Science Program by addressing research needs and science questions in Chapter 8 ("Ecosystems") of the 2003 Strategic Plan for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.

The program carries out its mission by soliciting, selecting, and funding basic-research projects studying the mechanistic basis for potential effects of climatic change (and associated changes in atmospheric composition) on terrestrial ecosystems in the United States. The research is meant to measurably improve the scientific basis for forecasting effects of climatic change on terrestrial ecosystems and their component organisms and processes; this forecasting emphasis requires the study of processes and mechanisms. The program supports manipulative experiments (in both the field and the laboratory) and the development and testing of ecosystem process models at universities, government laboratories, and private research institutions. Research projects are directed at specific scientific end points attainable within a set period.

The specific environmental changes of interest to the program are:

(1) Warming and associated changes in daily, seasonal, and interannual temperature cycles.

(2) Systematic changes in seasonal and annual precipitation amounts and their temporal distributions.

(3) Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration.

The program focuses on ecosystem-scale effects of these environmental changes. Specific consideration is given to affects on ecosystem stability and functioning brought about through (1) adjustments at the ecosystem scale (e.g., changes in species composition, succession, the organized hierarchy of ecosystem structures and processes, and primary and secondary production) and (2) adjustments at the organismal scale that are manifested at the ecosystem scale, including physiological, biochemical, and genetic changes. The program considers research at all levels of biological organization from whole ecosystems (e.g., forests, shrublands, and prairies) to macromolecules (e.g., DNA, RNA, and proteins). Types of ecosystems, their functions, and their component organisms most valued by society are a program priority.