Long-term ecological research site studying the dynamics of desert rodents, plants, ants and weather in Arizona.
The Portal Project is a long-term ecological study being conducted near Portal, AZ. Since 1977, the site has been used to study the interactions among rodents, ants and plants and their respective responses to climate. To study the interactions among organisms, we experimentally manipulate access to 24 study plots. This study has produced over 100 scientific papers and is one of the longest running ecological studies in the U.S.
Ecosystems are complex. They are comprised of species with divergent body sizes, generation times, and abilities to evolve in response to changed conditions. The abiotic environment (for example: temperature, humidity, etc) can change from hour-to-hour, season-to-season, year-to-year, or exhibit decadal or longer cycles. This complexity creates a variety of ecological dynamics on short-, medium-, long-, and even geologic time scales. While long-term studies have become more common, it is undoubtedly true that most studies greater than 50 years are still not the result of direct observation. This means we continue to have little or no idea what the long-term responses of ecosystems may be to perturbations.
Studies like the Portal Project are critical to our understanding of how seemingly simple manipulations can result in complex and unexpected long-term dynamics. For over 40 years we have been monitoring a 20 ha piece of the Chihuahuan Desert and observing its continually surprising response to the removal of dominant species. Please explore our website to learn more about this important study, what we’ve been doing, what we’ve learned, and what we’re doing right now.
We monitor rodents, plants, ants, and weather. All data from the Portal Project are made openly available in near real-time so that they can provide the maximum benefit to scientific research and outreach. The core dataset is managed using an automated living data workflow run using GitHub and Continuous Analysis.
The Portal Project data can also be accessed through the Data Retriever, a package manager for data.
A teaching focused version of the dataset is also maintained with some of the complexities of the data removed to make it easy to use for computational training purposes. This dataset serves as the core dataset for the Data Carpentry Ecology material and has been downloaded almost 50,000 times.
To make it as easy as possible to work with the Portal data we have an R package that automates many of the common data cleaning, manipulation, and imputation tasks required to work with the data.