Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility

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) constructed a globally unique research facility that is 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 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, or ND-LEEF for short.



parks logo

ND-LEEF was born out of a close partnership with the Park that provides 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.  Built in 2014, the Morrison family Education and Outreach Pavilion serves as the hub for future outreach programming at ND-LEEF and as a source of information about current ND research for park visitors.

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.  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

The two current watersheds at ND-LEEF represent the first phase of construction at ND-LEEF.  Subsequent phases will include the construction of 10 additional research watersheds, along with lab space and meeting rooms.







The Morrison Family Education and Outreach Pavilion                         Live View (Updated Hourly)

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


Research for a sustainable future

May 04, 2015 • Author: Dana Bakirtjy, ND Works • Categories: Asian Carp and eDNA , Land Use and Water Quality, ND-LEEF, and Transportation Networks, Climate Change, and the Spread of Invasive Species

Sustainability is often thought about strictly as an environmental issue: recycling, limiting emissions or protecting wildlife. But sustainability is more than just planting trees and driving hybrid cars. More than 140 faculty members in 36 University departments are currently conducting sustainability research on topics ranging from corporate social responsibility to the use of quantum dots in solar cells.

Jennifer Tank, biology

            Invasive species and access to fresh water are both environmental, economic and personal challenges to people across the world and in our own backyards, says Jennifer Tank, interim director of the Environmental Change Initiative, director of ND-LEEF (the Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility), and Galla Professor of Biological Sciences. Tank hopes that her research at ND-LEEF, located in northwestern St. Joseph County at St. Patrick’s County Park, can be a piece of the puzzle to solving these problems.

            Through a collaboration with Notre Dame hydrologists, Tank’s first project aims to understand how the size of the substrate on the bottom of a stream affects the biology of that stream. “Since streams influenced by agriculture or urban impacts often are filled with very fine sediments, we’re interested in seeing if coarsening the substrates will help restore damaged streams to their original function,” she says.


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.

Read All ND-LEEF News