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We Need Long-Term Ecological Research More Than Ever. Who’s Going to Pay for It?

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The information gathered in long-term studies helps scientists see how climate change is affecting our planet, yet money often goes to shorter-term projects.

When pioneering ecologist Alton Lindsey founded the Ross Biological Reserve at Purdue University in 1949, he envisioned a “living laboratory” where time-extensive ecological studies could be carried out and flourish. Every decade since then, researchers at the 92-acre reserve in Indiana diligently measured tree growth and mortality to study changing forest dynamics.

That continued until 2019, when the departure of faculty member Kerry Rabenold left the study’s future in jeopardy. Gordon McNickel, an assistant professor of plant ecology, took it upon himself to maintain the 70-year study. After an unsuccessful attempt at a grant through the National Science Foundation, McNickel decided to try a distinctly 21st-century model to raise capital: crowdfunding.

“Certain politicians will say that all taxes are bad, and that people should choose what [science] they want [to fund] rather than government choosing for them,” McNickel wrote in a post at, a crowdfunding platform for science-based research projects. “Crowdfunding would certainly be one way to fund basic science, and let people directly choose the science they care about.”

But the crowdfunding attempt failed; the campaign only raised $3,224 out of $46,000 necessary to continue the study past 2019. While McNickel was eventually able to find funding sources through the university, the experience helped him recognize the difficulties that can arise when trying to raise funds for long-term ecological research, or LTER.

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