VENUS — “What is a biological field station? That is one of the commonest questions I am asked before I give a presentation about Archbold Biological Station. It doesn’t matter if I am in Highlands County, elsewhere in Florida, or around the country, it’s the same question,” Dr. Hilary Swain, director of Archbold, said.

“Most people are curious as they have never heard of a biological field station. I like to tell them they are special places that provide everything students, researchers and the general public would want to better understand the natural environment,” Swain said. “I say that field stations combine four vital ingredients for science, conservation, and education.

“First, they are located in a ‘natural outdoor laboratory’ — meaning there are species and habitats for study, and protected key ecosystems for science and conservation.

“Second, they have great facilities ranging from analytical equipment, places to stay and eat, libraries, environmental sensors, and hi-technology and communications.

“Third, they house a community of scientists, students, educators, and land managers with whom to share information and discuss emerging ideas.

“Fourth, field stations are a critical repository of knowledge, combining data, scientific publications and long-term monitoring to tell us how the natural world works and how it is changing over time,” Swain said.

Field stations vary greatly in form and purpose. Inland field stations such as Archbold Biological Station encompass uplands and wetlands dedicated to science and conservation. They are different from marine laboratories such as Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota or Harbor Branch in Fort Pierce, where the focus is coastal and offshore.

In a 2016 study, it was estimated there are about 1,268 field stations and marine laboratories around the world. The size of field stations vary, from a few urban acres to thousands of acres spread across a remote landscape and their facilities range from simple trail networks to state-of-the-art laboratories.

In North America the majority of field stations are operated by universities and colleges: one example would be the Ordway Swisher Biological Station, east of Gainesville, which is part of the University of Florida. Many university field stations focus on summer field courses for students, as well as extensive scientific research. Some stations are run jointly by universities and government agencies.

A few field stations and ecosystem research centers, such as the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Crested Butte Colorado and the Jones Research Center in southwest Georgia are like Archbold Biological Station, independent and reliant on public support, grants, and in-house endowments and funding to operate.

Most of the field stations in North America belong to a not-for-profit group called the Organization of Biological Field Stations or OBFS. This collaboration helps member stations increase their effectiveness in supporting critical research, education, and outreach.

Dr. James Layne, Archbold’s first executive director, was one of the founding directors that helped form the organization in the late 1960s. Nowadays there are more than 160 members. The organization holds an annual meeting to facilitate exchange of ideas and these have been held at Archbold three times 1979, 1998, and 2012.

The 2018 meeting was held in September at the Schoodic Institute at Arcadia National Park, a beautiful setting in Maine. It has 150 attendees and Archbold was well-represented. Dr. Mary Hufty, chair of Archbold’s board, has been a steadfast OBFS meeting attendee for years. “Attending the OBFS annual meetings, and serving as the organization’s historian, has given me great insight into the role of Archbold on the national stage, and provides me with a network of like-minded people to assess our progress and mission,” Hufty said.

Schellie Archbold, Archbold Board member, attended this year’s in-depth strategic planning session. “It was intensive, informative, and interactive. We were presented with helpful strategic financial planning ideas, and discussed our own issues among ourselves. It made me realize what a comparatively strong position we’re in at Archbold,” Archbold said.

Gabe Kamener, who got a special award this summer from the National Science Foundation’s Environmental Data Initiative to work on data management at Archbold, was invited to give a presentation. “It was wonderful to join data managers from around the country and describe how I published several of Archbold’s plant, climate and water data sets online,” he said.

“I learned a lot about converting data for archiving and publishing,” Kamener said. “Getting Archbold data online allows us to combine our data with data from multiple other field stations and participate in national and international science networks addressing questions of global significance like cycles of water, carbon and nutrients.”

“Around the country field stations are often located in rural areas, far away from major universities and research centers,” Swain said. “We are proud to provide up-to-date science and a better understanding of the environment to help sustain lives, lands, and waters in the regions where we live and work.”


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