Researchers from more than 35 academic, governmental and non-profit organizations came together at a Lake Erie Synthesis Team Forum in Oregon, Ohio on Wednesday, April 25. The meeting connected the more than 65 investigators from Ohio and Michigan interested in proposing joint projects to the 2012 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), and gave them an opportunity for developing mutually beneficial collaborations.
The meeting, which was organized by Ohio Sea Grant and the Ohio Lake Erie Commission and held at the University of Toledo’s Lake Erie Center, did not focus solely on networking between researchers. It also gave them an opportunity to link their research to specific management actions at agencies like the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, to develop projects that respond to current management needs, and to fill gaps in current knowledge of Lake Erie issues.
Of course, the Synthesis Team also hopes that these multi-institutional projects will have an edge on single-investigator proposals during the funding deliberations. “With these forums, we want to foster the development of collaborative, coordinated projects that have a greater impact and are more competitive than individual projects,” explains Dr. Jeff Reutter, Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory Director. “Ultimately we hope to serve as a model for linking management and research on all of the Great Lakes.”
Gail Hesse, Executive Director of the Ohio Lake Erie Commission, adds that “the Synthesis Team’s goal is to ‘synthesize’ or integrate GLRI projects in Ohio so that we connect research results with management actions necessary for the restoration of Lake Erie. We want to be able to tell the story of the restoration work that has been accomplished in Ohio and identify the remaining needs."
That story could soon include research into reducing nutrient runoff through wetlands restoration and the creation of natural buffer strips between farm fields and adjacent streams, wetlands restoration and its effects on wildlife and agricultural runoff reduction, and early detection of invasive species through DNA traces found in the potentially affected ecosystem, to name just a few examples.
Many attendees also offered support services for other researchers who may need additional outside expertise to include in their proposals. That support included everything from historical data sets and analyses, to laboratory services like water quality assessments, and assistance with aligning projects to state agency priorities to strengthen practical applications of research findings.
In addition to connecting researchers and on-the ground resource managers, the multi-organization Synthesis Team, which is itself funded by GLRI, produces annual reports to explain project results and what they mean for the public. Both Reutter and Hesse consider it important to not only publicize current projects, but also to explain how projects fit into a larger picture of solving problems related to Lake Erie.