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Luquillo Long Term Ecological Research Site

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Luquillo LTER Program 4: Understanding Change in the Ecosystems of Northeastern Puerto Rico  (University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras)

Research Focus 

The Luquillo Long-Term Ecological Research Site (Luquillo LTER) seeks to understand how changing climate and land use affect the environment of northeastern Puerto Rico. Studies encompass both land and water ecosystems, from the peaks of the Luquillo Mountains to the city of San Juan. Many of its projects occur in El Yunque National Forest, where hurricanes, landslides and human disturbance have had significant impacts. Luquillo research has stimulated a new appreciation of the significance of large-scale disturbances in tropical forested ecosystems and the key role of plants and animals in shaping the response to these events.

Luquillo LTER research findings are relevant to other islands in the Caribbean and similar tropical areas.

Research Outcomes

Luquillo LTER is enhancing our understanding of the mechanisms through which natural and human disturbances structure ecosystems.

New pathways: Research at Luquillo LTER led to the discovery of ammonium and Feammox (anaerobic ammonium oxidation) as novel pathways for nitrogen loss from terrestrial ecosystems. Understanding these pathways will help scientists predict the sources and magnitudes of greenhouse gas emissions and how human activities such as irrigation and fertilization affect water and air quality in tropical regions.

Human and hurricane impacts: Using a model that simulates how forests react to multiple disturbances, scientists at Luquillo LTER found that interactions between hurricane and human impacts lead to forests with new tree species. Research on long-term changes in tree species illuminates our understanding of the potential interactions between natural disturbance and human land use. 

Tropical carbon cycling: Scientists at Luquillo LTER showed that carbon cycling in tropical forests is highly sensitive to climate. Relatively small increases in temperature can decrease the ability of the forests to store carbon recently captured by photosynthesis. These data show the potential for tropical forests to release stored carbon with global warming and suggest that we may not be able to rely on the forests to continue to remove excess CO2 associated with fossil fuel combustion and other human factors.

Education & Outreach

Luquillo LTER produces young and minority scientists with experience in linking population and ecosystem approaches and provides them with skills that can be applied in tropical regions or elsewhere.

The program has also developed a comprehensive education program involving teachers at a network of six high schools and a web-based middle school curriculum for teaching ecology.

Additional outreach activities are directed at improving are communities' appreciation of the water resources provided to by streams draining the Luquillo Mountains.

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  • overhead shot of field researcher in tree
  • Luqillo LTER vista
Researcher Nancy Harris studies forest canopy.
Luquillo LTER Site
Urban sustainability knowledge-action systems are a focus at NSF's Luquillo LTER site.
Luquillo LTER Site