Taking the pulse of marine ecosystems: The importance of coupling long-term physical and biological observations in the context of global change biology.
Research programs that co-locate environmental sensors with “biology” can enable the linking of environmental data with changes in biological or ecological processes. The coastal and marine Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) programs use this strategy, measuring parameters such as air and sea temperature, wave and storm energy, and seawater chemistry along with biological responses to them. This investment in technology has proven to be valuable and a major scientific asset for understanding how climate change, and environmental change in general, might alter marine populations and communities. Such a strategy can also aid in studies of global change biology of critical species, helping to place laboratory experiments and predictions of response in a broader environmental context. This coupling of long-term physical and biological observations has already detected fingerprints of change in sites such as the Palmer LTER situated on the western Antarctic Peninsula. In addition, new autonomous pH sensors recently deployed at two marine LTERs—Santa Barbara Coastal and Moorea Coral Reef—are generating long-term data sets that highlight the responses of their marine communities to rapidly changing ocean conditions.