Mission and Vision

Stengl Lost Pines Biological Station (SLP) offers expanded research and teaching opportunities on a larger template (~600 acres) that contribute to understanding, management and conservation of natural systems. The Lost Pines ecoregion includes dramatically different habitats and natural systems compared to those found at BFL and has isolated populations of flora and fauna, typically found in a much wetter climate, which persists in the sandy soils perched on clay. Such isolated populations are often at the limits of their range and, as such, small climactic changes produce large-scale observable effects, illustrating the dynamic qualities of the local system, and offering exciting long-term research opportunities. Outcomes of large-scale phenomena including fire, agricultural and forestry activities can be observed at SLP. The relative remoteness, larger footprint and onsite accommodation provide opportunities for overnight classes and spatially expansive studies and habitat manipulations, compared to BFL which serves students and faculty in easy reach of main campus. SLP provides a setting for low-budget yet sophisticated studies of societal importance in areas of biodiversity and environmental biology.

Vision for the Future

 The essence of a field station is the wealth of biodiversity and natural systems that it contains. We must use these living resources wisely to strengthen UT’s position as a national destination for scientific research and learning.

1.1 Research Potential:  Science for an Unpredictable World

  • Develop the potential of UT Field Stations to participate in key societal research areas, building on current strengths in areas such as global change biology, ecological restoration processes, invasive species management, microbiome dynamics, environmental genomics, ecosystem services, fire risk management, and climate responses. These activities, led by Faculty from across UT Colleges and by Field Station Research Scientists, will provide opportunities for student involvement. New research studies often build on the suite of long-term studies and habitat manipulations that should be further expanded to explore the complex, multi-layered web of life.
  • Develop long-term monitoring programs of key biotic and abiotic systems (using habitat manipulations, arthropod surveys, soil sensors, flux towers, etc). Long-term studies are highly valued for many current questions of societal concern and will be even more valuable in future years. Extending these to our current long-term studies will provide many opportunities for broader student and research participation.
  • Build and manage our long-term datasets and make them broadly available as databases and GIS products for classes and researchers. Records from class surveys, field research and UT Collections are assembled in georeferenced datasets.
  • Implement habitat management to integrate the needs of stewardship, learning, research and fire risk management. These comprehensive plans form the basis for maintaining thriving and diverse habitat templates, which form the foundation of the field station resources. Planning and implementation involves scientists, land managers and students, and allows engagement with local landowners interested in managing their resources.
  • Maintain live collection resources for teaching and research (fish, insects, plants, greenhouses). Specialist research assistants work closely with the responsible Faculty to oversee student interns and volunteers to maintain these critical resources.

1.2 Education: Preparing the Next Generation of Scientists

  • Develop a range of student offerings across disciplines to support the field stations' long-term studies and provide independent study opportunities. Field station endowments can support many undergraduate, graduate and postdoc fellowships and internships for students conducting studies relevant to the field stations. Funding also covers summer support and internships for students working on field station research and habitat management programs. All these programs provide enhanced opportunities for student engagement and mentoring with Faculty, Research Scientists and Collections Scientists.
  • Expand opportunities for experiential learning and small-group learning through hands-on field courses, shown to improve 4-year graduation rates. Field stations can support additional FRI (Freshman Research Initiative), Maymester and Summer courses.
  • Expand capstone field ecology and biodiversity courses to provide skills and understanding for future graduate students and vocational biologists. Such courses could be updated to integrate field research with modern approaches (genomics, GIS, microbial interactions).
  • Biodiversity Workshops. Develop a program of workshops for specialist groups based on field station opportunities and resources.

1.3 Outreach:

  • Outreach serves to connect the University with the community, increase STEM awareness, attract future scientists, and help redress historic inequities in access to science and scientific careers.
  • Outreach is currently centered on a limited offering of tours conducted by research staff and the award-winning Science Under the Stars program arranged by graduate students. High demand and public interest justify additional evening lecture series, K-12 tours, Open Days, and Volunteer Day events.
  • Expand the use of citizen/open science data acquisition platforms (e.g. iNature and eBird) to document the diversity and habitats. Several popular apps could interface public interest with the research and survey goals of the field stations.
  • Communicate our research to decision-makers, philanthropists, K-12 educators and the general public. Institutional and Donor contacts require committed Faculty champions, supported by enthusiastic communicators drawn from researchers and students.
  • Develop a strong social media presence within the Biodiversity Center to integrate inputs from a wide range of field station users.
  • Expand the docent/volunteer program built around trained members of the local community with initiatives in outreach, habitat management and biotic surveys. UT Field Stations always prioritize education and research in a closed, secure setting and an outreach program must operate with minimal disturbance to the fauna, flora and students.

1.4 Networking for Discovery and Innovation:

  • Participate in networked research across multiple sites in Texas, especially Central Texas. The UT Field Stations provide both a research and organizational hub for expanded studies needed to understand regional patterns and drivers of biodiversity dynamics.
  • Participate in external research networks to expand research and funding opportunities such as Nutrient Network and DroughtNet. One value of field stations is their availability to set up long-term manipulations as part of a wider research effort, which in turn draws more research and interest in each site.
  • Develop opportunities for Convergence with disciplines that are often dissociated from science in nature such as Geophysics, History, Policy, Art, Communications, Engineering, and Geography and the Medical School. Break-throughs in science often occur at the intersection of disparate disciplines. Innovative workshops and seminars provide opportunities for creativity and the development of collaborative proposals.

1.5 Modern Infrastructure for a Networked World

  • The provision of long-term records and monitoring of both the biodiversity and the environment is of critical value in attracting and supporting research at field stations. Expand the use of environmental sensing networks, UAV-hyperspectral sensors and biotic monitors such as acoustic and visual recording devices. Expand data connectivity across the field stations.
  • Digitize dark data (old records) and provide access for researchers and students.
  • Participate with other Field Stations and Collections to incorporate opportunities and best practices for data management. A new frontier in biodiversity collections entails collecting of ecological context and site metadata together with specimens, photos and DNA.

Reference: National Research Council. 2014. Enhancing the Value and Sustainability of Field Stations and Marine Laboratories in the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.