The goal of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) is to provide, for the first time, a highly coordinated national system for of critical ecological and environmental properties at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Measurements of the drivers of environmental change, biogeochemical cycling, and population and community responses across a variety of ecosystems will enable scientists to expand the current understanding of ecological processes and improve forecasting of ecological change at continental scales and over decades. NEON’s research infrastructure is deployed across 20 distinct ecological Domains that span the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. The Observatory ingests data streams, monitors and ensures data quality, and processes data into useable products that are broadly accessible and delivered free of cost to end-users. In addition, physical resources, such as archived samples and research infrastructure, are available to support Principal Investigator-driven research and educational activities.
NEON infrastructure and data products are strategically designed to address those challenges for which a coordinated national program of standardized observations is particularly effective. These include long-term observations of specific groups of organisms with varying life spans and generation times that are anticipated to be indicators of change (e.g. mammal, beetle, fish, and plant communities) and have wide geographic distributions to facilitate comparisons with regions and across the continent. NEON’s data are already being used to address questions such as understanding the relationship between canopy complexity and forest growth, developing a modeling framework to understand and predict plant phenology at community to continental scales, and understanding how community assembly processes impact intraspecific trait variation and community structure. These are just a few examples of initial NEON data use; the ability to address ecological questions across space and time, and across atmospheric, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, will greatly expand as the spatial and temporal data coverage increases.