NREL approach to research

NREL has pioneered research in ecosystem and watershed sciences that incorporates trans/inter-disciplinary and systems-level thinking to address basic and applied research questions, informing adaptive management frameworks and supporting policy development.

The Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory has a long tradition in ecosystem and watershed sciences as a ‘Research First Institute’ within the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University. We view ecosystems as a complex of interactions among the physical, biotic, and anthropogenic components of the environment around us; which, in turn, allows us to discover how ecosystems function at scales ranging from a microscopic soil microbial community in our backyard, to a vast herd of wildebeest roaming the Serengeti. Through the study of watersheds, we discover how water moves through and across landscapes, creating constraints on availability and quality of this resource to support human society and environmental processes critical for the functioning of the Earth system.

NREL strives to foster an open, collaborative and collegial intellectual environment that promotes and values critical thinking to advance the fields of ecosystem and watershed sciences, and associated applications to improve resource management. NREL scientists value the diversity of ideas and approaches that various disciplines and individuals bring to address environmental challenges; understanding that it is through this intellectual diversity that environmental systems and challenges are best studied and addressed. Towards this goal, the NREL strives to foster a culture of intellectual curiosity and creativity that includes the following elements.

  • Trans/Inter-Disciplinary Research – NREL scientists come from different disciplinary backgrounds, often with different epistemologies, to work collaboratively on fundamental and applied research questions.
  • Systems-Thinking and Analysis - NREL scientists study across different levels of organization in the environment from the genome to the globe, and emphasize the use of systems analysis to uncover key drivers of environmental phenomenon.
Summer Soils Institute, students in the Forest

  • Basis for Adaptive Management and Policy Development - NREL research leads to environmental assessments that form an expanded basis for adaptive management and policy development.

These innovative and forward thinking approaches have enabled NREL scientists to seek creative solutions through multiple means to address pressing environmental challenges facing society, such as ways to foster food and water security, to address climate change and to pioneer new approaches for ecosystem and wildlife management.  NREL advances basic and applied research frontiers, while simultaneously rethinking and redefining how research engagement interacts with traditional academic endeavors of education, advising, and outreach at universities.