Developing the Environmental Long-Term Observatories Network of Southern Africa (ELTOSA)
LONG-TERM ECOLOGICAL RESEARCH (LTER) facilitates the understanding of long-term environmental processes and episodic changes at local to global scales. The Environmental Long-Term Observatories Network of Southern Africa (ELTOSA) is a regional LTER network of country Environmental Observatories Networks (EON) encompassing the natural environments and their socio-economic context. EON involves the documentation, analysis and information dissemination concerning long-term (decades to centuries), large-scale (ecosystem, biome, continental, global) ecological and socio-economic processes. These are elucidated through multidisciplinary research and monitoring over a network of institutionally operated field observation sites. Basic functions concern fieldwork, data management and sharing, analyses and interpretation, and information dissemination, all operated in such a way as to benefit most from cooperation among professionals and with resource managers at all levels. Requirements for continuity include programmatic tenure and funding, data archiving, data sharing, training, and networking. EON involves networking at four scales. First, the level of the EON centre inter-connects specific study plots over time and space, and facilitates collaboration between researchers and students using the centre. Second, the country network level inter-connects several institutions and programmes with common goals and activities. Third, the regional network level, such as ELTOSA, promotes subcontinental programmes, synergy, and complementarity. Fourth, the global network (ILTER, International Long-Term Ecological Research Network) facilitates planning and information exchange concerning such programmes across the world. This position paper describes the current status and character of ELTOSA, sets out to solicit programmatic support from funders and policy-makers, and intends to serve as a discussion focus for its further dynamic development.