Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility at St. Patrick's County Park



         Education and Outreach Pavilion 


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Working in a laboratory provides scientists with a predictable and controlled setting for conducting experiments. But in the environmental sciences eventually many of those experiments need to graduate to the uncontrolled and unpredictable environment of the field—a transition that can be challenging for both the scientist and the science. To help bridge this gap between the lab and the field, the University of Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative (ND-ECI) is constructing a globally unique $1 million research facility that will be home to two constructed experimental watersheds, each consisting of an interconnected pond, stream and wetland. Both of these experimental watersheds are roughly the length and width of a football field and they will be located five miles north of campus on six acres of land within St. Patrick’s County Park. These artificial watersheds will allow scientists to conduct “field experiments” in a more controlled environmental setting than nature itself can provide, thereby helping to bridge the gap that has traditionally existed between the lab and the field. This new research site is known as the Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility at St. Patrick’s County Park, or ND-LEEF for short.

parks logo

ND-LEEF is born out of a close partnership with the Park that will provide an unrivaled opportunity for scientific and environmental outreach to regional school groups and other park visitors from South Bend, St. Joseph County, and surrounding communities. What’s more, because the entire site will be wired with an extensive embedded sensor network, school groups, the general public, and collaborating scientists will be able to follow the research in real time via the Internet from anywhere in the world. In addition, these real-time data will allow educators at all levels to provide follow-up on ecological classroom exercises for weeks or even months after a field trip to ND-LEEF is complete.

While other universities and government agencies have experimental research facilities containing multiple small ponds or artificial streams, we believe ND-LEEF is globally unique because the pond, stream and wetland in each watershed are connected—an experimental research design that is intended to mimic nature. The connected configuration of these watersheds is especially important when investigating issues related to environmental change, which often cascade through several ecosystem types.  What’s more, the streams, ponds and wetlands at ND-LEEF can also be disconnected from one another for a given experiment, providing scientists with maximum flexibility in designing research projects. In addition to the linked watershed units, ND-LEEF will also include a large area dedicated to terrestrial ecological research as well as space for smaller scale mesocosm experiments.


In addition to the close partnership with the Park, ND-LEEF represents a multidisciplinary collaboration between the Notre Dame College of Science, the College of Engineering and the School of Architecture. Groundbreaking for the facility occurred on June 15, 2012, and construction is expected to be completed by Fall 2012. The first research experiments at ND-LEEF should begin during Spring 2013.




ND-LEEF Contacts:

Professor Jennifer Tank, Director (574) 631-3976

Brett Peters, Assistant Director (574) 367-7621

Professor Aimee Buccellato, School of Architecture (574) 631-1431

Peter Annin, ECI Managing Director (574) 807-9322



Preventing Invasive Species in Streams and Rivers with eDNA

April 10, 2015 • Author: Jennifer Tank, University of Notre Dame • Categories: Asian Carp and eDNA , ND-LEEF, and Transportation Networks, Climate Change, and the Spread of Invasive Species

Each year, aquatic invasive species cost the United States economy billions of dollars. It is imperative to quickly identify new invasions and respond accordingly. In 2034, the threat from invasive species will be greater than today due to increasing domestic and international trade. This will be a significant concern since the arrival and establishment of invasive species can compromise ecosystem structure and function.


Detecting the presence of a few individual organisms that make up an invasion front, which are often small and cryptic, can be very difficult, especially in flowing waters like streams and rivers. In 2034, natural resource managers will be able to use field-ready detection techniques, allowing them to track the presence of the first few organisms beginning an invasion in real-time and quickly eradicate them. Rather than relying on visual identification, as we do now, in 2034 we will use a new set of tools and methods to isolate and identify trace amounts of DNA that are constantly shed by aquatic organisms into their environment. We call this “environmental DNA” (eDNA), and real-time detection techniques are on the near horizon. 

The detection of eDNA in aquatic systems, especially streams and rivers, is relatively new and questions remain about the simultaneous transport and environmental degradation of eDNA in flowing waters. Currently, a positive “hit” in a water sample, suggesting the presence of eDNA in a river, could indicate the incidence of a target invasive species nearby; alternatively, flowing water could have carried this eDNA from a considerable distance upstream. Thus, water sampling for invasive eDNA in flowing waters is not very reliable at this time.

ND-LEEF Raises the Roof on New Education and Outreach Pavilion

February 16, 2015 • Author: Joanne Fahey, University of Notre Dame • Categories: ND-LEEF

Although currently under a layer of snow, come spring the Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility (ND-LEEF) will open a brand new outdoor classroom and research destination, the Morrison Family Education and Outreach Pavilion.

Science Serving Society

ND-LEEF is a research facility within the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative, which supports innovative research programs that help solve complex environmental problems, including the interrelated problems of invasive species, land use, and climate change and their synergistic impacts on freshwater. Based in South Bend’s St. Patrick’s County Park, ND-LEEF is a globally unique research site due to its two replicated watersheds that each contain linked streams, ponds, and wetlands. These watersheds provide a platform for cutting-edge environmental research in a setting that mimics nature, yet is highly controlled and replicable.

“ND-LEEF will be critical in solving the world’s major environmental challenges by bridging the gap that has traditionally existed between the lab and the field,” said Jennifer Tank, Galla Professor of Biological Sciences, Director of ND-LEEF, and Interim Director at ND-ECI. “From identifying invasive species through their environmental DNA to predicting nutrient retention from agricultural run-off in bodies of water, ND-LEEF truly is using science to serve society.”



The new Morrison Family Education and Outreach Pavilion at ND-LEEF will translate the research done in the fields and streams to anyone interested in the ecological research, including members of the public, researchers, and students, ranging from children to adult-learners. It will also help raise awareness among community members about issues related to environmental change and sustainability, especially given its central location within a popular county park, and will serve as a critical bridge between the classroom and the field for students of all ages.

ND LEEF prepares for Science Sunday at St. Pat's

September 28, 2014 • Author: Gene Stowe, South Bend Tribune • Categories: ND-LEEF


ND LEEF, a unique environmental research collaboration between the University of Notre Dame and St. Patrick’s County Park, will hold its second annual public Science Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. Oct. 5. Construction has also started on an outdoor education and outreach pavilion that will enhance year-round community engagement at ND LEEF.

The Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility, with an initial investment of $1 million on six acres in the park, includes two state-of-the art experimental watersheds designed to bridge the controlled environment of a laboratory with the uncontrolled environment found in nature.

Each watershed replicates the complex natural system of ponds, streams and wetlands while allowing scientists to manage such factors as water temperature and flow for their research. ND LEEF is part of the university’s Environmental Change Initiative (ND-ECI), aimed at applying cutting-edge research to improve environmental management and provide innovative policy solutions.

Science Sunday, which attracted more than 150 visitors last year, includes tours of the facility, descriptions of research by 10 to 15 scientists from the Colleges of Science and Engineering, and hands-on activities especially for children.


JINA Art 2 Science Camp Highlights

July 18, 2014 • Author: Annie Grisoli • Categories: ND-LEEF


Check out the highlights of the 2014 Art 2 Science Camp sponsered by  the Joing Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics. 


During the JINA Art to Science camp from July 14-18, 2014 in the Jordan Hall of Science, over 175 children learned about the wonders of the physical universe and used their creativity to express their new knowledge by creating art and hands-on experiments.

ND-LEEF Featured on WNIT Outdoor Elements

February 07, 2014 • Author: WNIT Outdoor Elements • Categories: Land Use and Water Quality and ND-LEEF


Evie Outdoor Elements

The Teachers as Scholars program hosted a two-part series with ND-LEEF faculty and staff in October 2013. The seminar focus was The Effects of Environmental Change on Freshwater and presented by Dr. Jennifer Tank and Brett Peters. WNIT's Outdoor Elements, with host Evie Kirkwood, featured this program in their latest episode. 


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