Working Groups

Working Groups

The LTAR Network uses network-level working groups to achieve research goals. Working groups are research incubators that focus on specific topics and agricultural challenges and opportunities. The groups develop or improve research methods, models, and tools. These groups also carry out coordinated, large-scale data collection and provide the infrastructure required to analyze and to disseminate these data. 

Network-wide projects allow scientists from many disciplines to develop novel scientific insights at regional to national scales, evaluate whether and where these insights are applicable, and then adapt tools to local conditions. Working groups engage with stakeholders, producers, and industry in developing and disseminating these products.

We welcome collaborations that complement research done through Working Groups.

The LTAR Network Working Groups

Biological Working Group

Leads: Betsey Boughton


The purpose of the LTAR Biology WG is to 1) develop protocols for network wide biological measurements, 2) Lead biological data collection surveys, 3) develop indicators of biodiversity and biological processes (both terrestrial and aquatic) impacting sustainable intensification of agroecosystems 4) develop and lead cross-site analysis of biological processes and biodiversity.

Integrative indicators of biological processes that are identified include landscape diversity, aboveground net primary productivity, livestock production, crop production, forage nutritive value, phenology, arthropod diversity, plant diversity, and soil microbial diversity. Future work will explore adding indicators for denitrification, decomposition, and biodiversity indicators for multiple spatial scales. 

Measurements of biological processes will be integrated into network wide analyses of tradeoffs and synergies and in response to agricultural management for sustainable intensification.

Common Experiment: Croplands Working Group

Leads: Mark Liebig, Phil Robertson


The Croplands Common Experiment Workgroup seeks to 1) develop and evaluate production systems that promote the sustainable management of cropland, 2) identify, quantify, and understand mechanisms underlying tradeoffs and synergies among production, environmental, economic, social, and human condition domains, and 3) use common measurements across multiple systems in different regions to understand and model outcomes.  Successful achievement of these objectives will facilitate identification of strategies for sustainable intensification, define production capacities for sustainable cropland production systems, elucidate tradeoffs among agroecosystem domains, and provide a mechanistic understanding of factors affecting agricultural productivity, ecosystem services, and human dimension attributes.

Common Experiment: Grazinglands

Leads: David Augustine, Kathy Soder, Wayne Polley 


The goal of the Grazinglands (GL) Working Group is to apply the capacity and scope of the nation-wide LTAR Network to conduct research supporting improved sustainability of GL agriculture. Specifically, we seek to: 1) develop and evaluate production systems that promote sustainable management of GL, 2) identify and understand mechanisms underlying tradeoffs and synergies among GL ecosystem services, 3) use common measurements across multiple systems in different regions to understand and model agricultural production, environmental health, and rural prosperity outcomes, and 4) capitalize on commonalities in research being planned, on-going, or recently conducted at LTAR GL or collaborator sites to create multi-site or network-wide projects. The GL Common Experiment evaluates the consequences of implementing pioneering or aspirational agricultural practices and management strategies over those obtained using traditional or business-as-usual practices and strategies.

Communication Strategies Working Group

Leads: Cathleen Hapeman, Mark Kautz


The vision of the LTAR Communication Strategies Working Group (CSWG) is to engage and inform broad audiences of LTAR network discoveries and advancements with the mission of facilitating the LTAR network visibility and outward facing communications. The CSWG serves in the capacity of identifying communication needs and aiding in the production of the appropriate media for conveying research results to multiple audiences in a clear, concise, and appropriate manner. The CSWG helps the LTAR network to achieve strategies for the sustainable intensification of agriculture by serving as a liaison between leadership, scientists, administrators, and USDA ARS communication departments to disseminate LTAR network findings and advancements to a broad group of stakeholders.

Data Management Working Group

Leads: Mike Cosh, John Ragosta


The LTAR Data Management Working Group (DMWG) exists to organize data and associated information systems (the information ecosystem) to facilitate analysis and creation of e knowledge, in order to enable decision making related to the sustainable intensification of agroecosystems.  We will strive to align LTAR data with the FAIR principles:  to be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable.

As a group, members work to ensure high quality data are produced and made available to scientists via effective and efficient data management.  Additionally, DMWG members contribute to the design and development of reliable cyber-infrastructure within USDA data management and information technology (IT) policies, while meeting the mission of increasing the impact of ARS research.  Innovative operational practices, including embedding at least one LTAR site data manager within every scientific domain and project working group.

Drainage Working Group

Leads: Gary Feyereisen and Kevin King


Intensification of row crop agriculture on the productive lands of the U.S. Corn Belt requires subsurface tile drainage. However, drainage discharge carries dissolved nutrients and sediment to local, regional, and international water bodies. Increasing precipitation trends exacerbate losses. The goal of this working group is to reduce the ecological impacts of agricultural production intensified by tile drainage. Our cross-site research will: 1) elucidate transport pathways in tile-drained landscapes; 2) develop methodologies to locate subsurface tile networks; 3) improve the subsurface tile drainage transport and water quality functions in models; and 4) assess the effectiveness of conservation practices in the field, at the edge-of-field, and in drainage ditch or stream networks. We expect the outcome of our work to inform conservation practice standards and measurably improve tile drainage model function.

Eddy Covariance/Surface Flux Working Group

Leads: John Baker


To identify an appropriate set of sensors and procedures for collecting and processing the data needed to measure both the surface fluxes (heat, moisture, carbon dioxide, and momentum) and associated meteorological and surface properties to ensure consistent high-quality data across the LTAR network.

Human Dimensions Working Group

Leads: David Archer, J.D. Wulfhorst, and Dannele Peck


Conducts social science research and facilitates interdisciplinary integration within the LTAR network, supporting the social, economic, cultural, and other human community-based components of long-term agroecosystem research.  This includes: 1) assessing social science capacities, and 2) developing a socio-economic framework to guide monitoring and assessment. Plays a key role in developing sustainable intensification strategies supporting rural prosperity, community well-being, and quality of life. This will be achieved through: 1) engaging stakeholders to integrate human dimensions components of BAU systems and visioning of ASP systems; 2) developing methods and indicators to assess impacts of environmental and production changes to rural prosperity and human well-being; and 3) identifying opportunities and barriers to adopting sustainable agroecosystems; and, 4) developing and delivering knowledge, tools, and products to facilitate adoption of ASP strategies and innovations.

Manureshed Working Group

Leads: Sheri Spiegal


LTAR’s Manureshed working group is catalyzing innovation in livestock and crop systems so that manure can be efficiently and sustainably used as fertilizer. The strategic redistribution and recycling of manure provides a solution to some of the greatest production and conservation challenges facing US agriculture, while promoting climate change adaptation and mitigation.  LTAR’s manureshed working group envisions a circular livestock and cropping system economy that is achieved through comprehensive and coordinated sustainable intensification strategies.

Modeling Working Group

Leads: David Bosch 


The goals of the LTAR modeling team are 1) facilitate application and testing of natural resource models across the LTAR network; 2) work with LTAR sites to assure appropriate data are collected for testing and application of various models; and 3) facilitate discussions across multiple model platforms to enhance and strengthen model applications.  These goals will be achieved by determining and completing feasible short-term and long-term modeling projects within various modeling interest areas.

Non-CO2 Gases Working Group

Leads: Michel Cavigelli, Curt Dell


The purpose of the Non-CO2 GHG WG is to provide a forum for 1) sharing information on measurement strategies and challenges, 2) developing, to the extent possible, standardized measurement procedures across Common Experiments, and 3) developing projects that advance the scientific field of GHG mitigation.

Phenology Initiative Working Group

Lead: Dawn Browning


The LTAR Phenology Working Group serves as an incubator for research questions related to growing season dynamics in agricultural landscapes across the LTAR network, linkages between seasonal dynamics and productivity metrics, and the role that management and climate change play in sustainable agriculture. The ultimate aim of research efforts is to devise tools and support-systems that enable agricultural producers to remain agile and sustain production while enhancing environmental outcomes. The group has formulated both network-level and multi-site projects and contributed to network-level efforts across other Working Groups (e.g., Flux Climatology project in the Eddy-Covariance WG). We also serve LTAR researchers who seek assistance with the design, installation, and deployment of near-surface digital cameras, or PhenoCam.

Rangeland Soil Erosion Working Group

Leads: Beth Newingham, Jason Williams and Nick Webb


This working group coordinates with NRCS CEAP Grazing Lands and collaborators at BLM and USGS to conduct basic research and develop models to better understand, predict and manage the impacts of soil erosion by wind and water across rangeland ecosystems. The research supports production, sustainable environmental management, and improved health and prosperity of communities. The group uses national inventory and monitoring datasets to assess soil erosion. The group conducts research and addresses soil erosion impacts across grazing land agroecological systems. The group will increase the availability of soil erosion information to managers and agencies including the NRCS and BLM. Research will directly support stakeholders to develop management objectives to mitigate runoff, soil erosion and blowing dust hazards, assess effectiveness of conservation practices and investments, and evaluate soil erosion management synergies and trade-offs relative to other resource concerns.

Remote Sensing/GIS Working Group

Leads: Alisa Coffin and Chandra Holifield Collins


To improve, enhance and promote research in remote sensing. To share information about, develop resources for, and support coordinated research to address and solve agroecosystem problems through the application of remotely sensed data, geographical information systems (GIS), and related spatial information and techniques.

Resilience Working Group

Leads: Shana Sundstrom and co-leads Craig Allen, Tala Awada, and Sheri Speigal


The goal of the LTAR Resilience Working Group is to bring together scientists and practitioners from across multiple environmental and agricultural networks, University partners and stakeholders in North America, to co-generate novel theoretical and data science advances focused on resilience in agricultural landscapes, and develop applications to understand, reduce, and mitigate the vulnerability of the coupled human and biophysical dimensions of agricultural systems to regime shifts within and across multiple scales.

Expected outcomes/products from this Working Group include: transborder collaborative community, clear understanding of data availability for large-scale long-term resilience-focused research, design of research projects to address knowledge gaps in our understanding of vulnerability to regime shifts in social-ecological agricultural landscapes across North America, and pursuit of grants and execution of research agenda. 

Soils Working Group

Leads: Jude Maul and Will Osterholz


The sustainable intensification of agriculture will have both direct and indirect effects on soils, where the outcomes of management strategies may have impacts in soils that occur on long time scales and in some cases have different responses in different regions. The LTAR coordinated agroecosystem research network provides an opportunity to develop unified concepts in soil science that incorporates an ecosystem scale perspective on agricultural management of landscapes. The Soils Working Group is the social network within the USDA LTAR that focuses on understanding and predicting how environmental factors and agronomic decisions affect the soils under agricultural management in the US. Our objectives are to identify stakeholders and understand the drivers of their agricultural decisions and needs, and develop a common vocabulary of soil science factors and attributes to enable data harmonization among the USDA-LTAR and the international community interested in soils information.

Sustainable Intensification Indicators Working Group

Leads: Sheri Spiegal


To help agricultural scientists and other stakeholders evaluate how different innovations perform in relation to sustainable intensification goals in environmental and socioeconomic domains, to understand the tradeoffs of widespread adoption

Water Quality Working Group

Leads: Richard Lizotte and Ray Bryant 


As part of the LTAR Network, the Water Quality Working Group focus is to maintain or improve water quality and aquatic ecosystem services while maintaining and/or enhancing agricultural productivity. Long-term goals include: a) effective pollutant management; b) improved modeling; and c) balance between agricultural productivity and water quality leading to healthy watershed ecosystems.

Water Quantity Working Group

Leads: Claire Baffaut, Lindsey Yasarer, Mike Cosh, and David Hoover


Challenges in agricultural water management have increased: droughts, heat waves, and excessive rainfalls have compromised U.S. agricultural production, profitability and sustainability. In spite of a rich baseline of hydrological data, scientists are uncertain of how water fluxes may be changing in agricultural landscapes. The goals of this working group are: 1) facilitate hydrologic measurements with the accuracy needed to address research questions on water availability and fluxes, 2) promote cross-sites research efforts on the movement of water in agricultural landscapes, and 3) determine how agricultural systems water use efficiency relate to agricultural productivity. This information will help identify water management approaches in the context of long-term changes and determine how to minimize the impact of agriculture on water resources. 

Weather and Climate Working Group

Leads: Stuart Hardegree, Emile Elias, and Phil Heilman


Weather and climate variability define the limits of species productivity and suitability for grazinglands and agricultural systems throughout the US.  Decision-support systems and interpretive models being used by the LTAR research community are driven by meteorological inputs that are highly variable over both space and time.  Although LTAR locations conduct their primary research at specific research locations, they are also expected to collaborate and extend their research inferences over a much larger regional or national area of impact.  The LTAR Weather and Climate Working Group (WCWG) provides a mechanism for individual locations to collaborate, to develop and test hypotheses, and to extend the relevance of their research among and between research locations and regions. 

Wind Erosion Working Group

Lead: Nick Webb


This working group conducts basic research and develops models to better understand, predict and manage impacts of wind erosion across agro-ecological systems – supporting production, sustainable management, and improved health and prosperity of communities. The group collects standardized measurements across croplands, rangelands and desert ecosystems to support new understanding and development of predictive tools that can leverage existing national inventory and monitoring datasets to assess wind erosion and support its management. The group conducts research and addresses wind erosion impacts across agro-ecological systems and at scales that wouldn’t be possible at individual sites. The group will increase the availability of wind erosion information to managers and partner agencies. Partners include stakeholders (NRCS, BLM) responsible for managing and supporting sustainable development of agro-ecological systems nationally.



The USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Long-Term Agroecosystem Research network consists of 18 Federal and university agricultural research sites with an average of over 50 years of history. The goal of this research network is to ensure sustained crop and livestock production and ecosystem services from agroecosystems, and to forecast and verify the effects of environmental trends, public policies, and emerging technologies.