Texas grasslands to serve as 'living laboratory' for next three decades

DECATUR — What was once Dust Bowl farmland in North Texas is poised to be on the front line of one of the nation's largest ecological projects.

Over 30 years, the rolling prairies and woodlands of the Caddo-LBJ National Grasslands will serve as part of a living, changing laboratory in the first-ever continental ecological observatory.

The National Ecological Observatory Network is designed to increase understanding and forecasting of the effects of climate change, biodiversity, land-use changes, invasive species, pollution and other issues, said Dr. Michael Keller, chief scientist of the Boulder, Colo.-based nonprofit organization.

The project is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, an independent agency that directs federal funding for research.

Last week, the foundation approved the network's final design review, a major planning hurdle for the project, said Jennifer Walton, the network’s public relations manager.

Since 2007, the network has received $27 million in federal money, she said. Next up: final approval of future funding this summer by the foundation board and director, before heading to Congress for its blessing, Walton said.

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