World-renowned site for ecosystem research turns 75

A group visits the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve’s biodiversity experiment to learn about the effects of plant biodiversity on population and ecosystem processes. Photos by Caitlin Barale Potter
A group visits the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve’s biodiversity experiment to learn about the effects of plant biodiversity on population and ecosystem processes. Photos by Caitlin Barale Potter

The University of Minnesota’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve will mark milestone with a Sept. 9 celebration.

It’s a little known fact outside scientific circles, but one of the best-known sites in the world for studying how nature works is located in East Bethel. For 75 years, top ecologists have made seminal discoveries at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve with field-shaping results that continue to contribute to our understanding of how human activities are altering the diversity of plants and animals, and how people depend on this biodiversity.

Kids check out insects collected and pinned by Cedar Creek researchers at East Bethel Booster Day earlier this year.
Kids check out insects collected and pinned by Cedar Creek researchers at East Bethel Booster Day earlier this year.

The modern science of ecosystem ecology was conceived by a graduate student who collected data at a lake at Cedar Creek in the 1940s. The first automatic animal-tracking system was invented by University of Minnesota scientists working at the research station. Long-term research on prescribed burns for savannas began here in the 1960s and continues today. Experiments launched in the 1980s and 1990s helped establish modern ecological theory including the central role of biodiversity in the functioning of ecosystems.

“The 75th anniversary offers an opportunity to reflect on the success of our long-term ecological research program, which made Cedar Creek a world leader in research on nutrients, biodiversity loss and climate change,” said Forest Isbell, associate director of the research station. “But, it’s also a chance to look forward as we work to identify sustainable solutions to environmental challenges.”

Ongoing projects include studies of biodiversity – the number of different species living in an area, from the tiniest bacteria to the largest animals and most massive trees- – as well as large-scale experiments focused on how environmental changes are affecting the globe.

Cedar Creek 75th anniversary celebration will run from 1-5 p.m. on Sept. 9.

The public is invited to come to the station for an afternoon of tours of Cedar Creek experiments and environments, youth activities and more.

About Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve

Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve covers a 9-square-mile area in East Bethel. It is the site of some of the world’s longest running experiments, which are determining how ecosystems are responding to fertilization, biodiversity loss and climate change.

Minnesota lies at the juncture of three great biomes of North America: Northern Conifer Forest, Eastern Deciduous Forest and Tallgrass Prairie. Cedar Creek contains flora and fauna of all three, as well as wetlands, lakes and, of course, the creek after which it is named.

The station contains remarkable diversity of plants and animals including the largest nesting colony of red-headed woodpeckers in the region. Regents Professor Dave Tilman, who is director of Cedar Creek, has become the most highly cited ecologist in the world in recent decades. His seminal discoveries concerning the value of biodiversity inform the work of researchers around the world.