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Establishment of the Chinese Ecological Research Network (CERN) for Research, Monitoring and Demonstration

In 1988, Professors Zeng Zhaoshun and Shen Shanmin first proposed that the Chinese Academy of Sciences establish the Chinese Ecological Research Network (CERN). This strategic idea has greatly enhanced our ability to systematically address the enormous problems related to environmental protection and construction, agricultural modernization, and sustainable development, as well as to build research platforms for innovative science.

Based on the characteristics of natural vegetative zonation in China, our scientists took the lead in designing and formulating master plans for CERN and in formulating the standards and guidelines for field monitoring of ecological variables. They built the first field observational platforms in forest and agricultural ecosystems, which laid the foundation for CERN field stations within the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as well as for the establishment of field station networking in China. This network covers the ecosystem types in the major ecoregions of China and has become a comprehensive research network encompassing ecological monitoring, scientific research and field demonstrations. A further consequence of this initiative has been reflected in the establishment of new agencies within the central government focusing on ecological sustainability of China’s lands and natural resources.

Scientists from various disciplines were organized to design and set up short- and long-term field experiments and demonstrations related to biological conservation, ecological restoration and modern agriculture. For example, results of long-term fertilization experiments have revealed that soil acidification and unbalanced nutrients associated with over-fertilization and nitrification are key processes that lead to low nutrient use efficiency for row crops. These studies have also revealed that soil organic matter is an important component for maintaining soil fertility. Results from long-term fertilization experiments have provided key theoretical support for aiding farmers in employing ecologically sound fertilization regimes.

The theoretical and technical accomplishments of China’s ecological network have been used extensively in ecological observations and monitoring. CERN has now become a model for field station construction in China, and is a major player in ecological networking throughout Asia and the world.

CERN has also organized nitrogen deposition experiments in different forest ecosystems in China. The results suggest that N deposition increases forest productivity, but also can lead to forest biodiversity loss. In the subtropics, even low levels of N deposition may cause significant biodiversity decline, which is contrary to the conventional view that low N deposition rates have negligible effects on forest biodiversity.

CERN stations have also participated in the International Large Permanent Plots network. Our scientists have established a 25-ha plot at the Changbai Mountain Forest Ecosystem Research Station to explore the mechanisms of species coexistence. Results have shown that both density dependence and density independence play important roles in the temperate forests of Northeast China. All these studies have provided important theoretical support for forest biodiversity conservation, forest ecosystem management and restoration of degraded forest ecosystems in the region.

Data collected from CERN stations have been an important data source for the Chinese Mega-Data Center. Research from the CERN received the First-Class Award for Science Advancement from the Ministry of Science and Technology. President Xi Jinping presented the certificate to the award recipient Professor Sun Honglie.

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