Short Funding Cycles

The science questions of interest to terrestrial ecosystem research community require a long-term commitment to data acquisition. The standard funding cycle of 1-3 years is extremely short when dealing with natural and even managed systems, where processes operate across temporal scales up to multiple decades due to the way intrinsic and extrinsic drivers affect the system being considered. For example, in wet sclerophyll forests, there can be complex multilayered ecosystem processes of fire, logging regimes, pathogen outbreaks, rainfall, and nutrient-driven impacts on productivity, nested within even longer-term impacts of climatic variability, CO2 increases, rainforest patch expansion and contraction, etc., all operating on different spatial and temporal scales. While arid ecosystem processes may be somewhat simpler (at least at face value), the time scales can be significantly longer, driven by inherently more variable and extreme climate regimes. The infrastructure required to support this science needs to have two key features: planning for a long-term operational lifespan and a capacity to respond where necessary to the more infrequent and unpredictable (in both space and time) drivers that have an impact on systems. There is a trade-off in dealing with both requirements exacerbated by the chronic underinvestment/ fragmented investment discussed earlier; however, the absence of genuinely long-term thinking stymies the effective establishment and operation of critical infrastructure components. This is in strong contrast with the situation in the United States (e.g., NEON that have planned for a 30-year operational lifespan), Japan (Monitoring Sites 1000 Project launched by the Ministry of the Environment in 2003 aimed at monitoring 1000 sites for 100 years, http://www.cbd.int/countries/profile/default.shtml?country=jp), European Union (e.g., Analysis and Experimentation on Ecosystems [AnaEE] program planned for 20-year operation after a 5-year build phase, http://www. anaee.com/images/ pdf/esfri-strategy_report_and_roadmap.pdf), and New Zealand (12-year outcome-based investment model, http://www.biosecurity. govt.nz/biosec/sys/strategy/science).

Short and uncertain funding cycles make it difficult to ensure ongoing data collection and delivery systems can be maintained and are an impediment to the application of seamless methodologies, the absence of which causes significant spatial and temporal fragmentation in data and information. For example, the response TERN facilities invariably first receive when discussing issues of method standardization rollout and/or secure data ingestion into national collaborative supporting systems is "why should we engage in this process when it may not be present in the future?"

Short and uncertain funding cycles also have significant impacts on the staff and management of TERN and provide an unwelcome distraction for the true work of the infrastructure. For many years, even core individuals have operated on 1-2-year contracts and have no certainty of future employment. This leads to an almost annual sense of discomfort as individuals often do not have a new contract offered until 4-8 weeks before the old contract runs out. Many excellent employees have been lost from the network as they secure more sustained employment, taking organizational knowledge with them. To create the best possible infrastructure, TERN needs to ensure that staff are not lost and that the growth and development of the network can be sustained by those who understand it best.

 
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