Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility


A laboratory provides scientists with a predictable and controlled setting for conducting experiments. However, research in the environmental sciences also needs to be tested at a more realistic scale, in a whole lake or stream for instance. The Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility, or ND-LEEF, provides scientists with a place to do these large-scale experiments without the challenges of field research, where controlling and replicating experiments can be problematic.

ND-LEEF is a globally unique research facility that houses four man-made experimental watersheds, each consisting of an interconnected pond, stream, and wetland. Scientists use ND-LEEF to conduct experiments in a field-like setting but in a more controlled environment than one can find in nature. Both experimental watersheds are roughly the length and width of a football field and located five miles north of campus on six acres of land within St. Patrick’s County Park.  

In 2015, ND-LEEF became home to a pair of bald eagles, which have continued to return each season and fledge eaglets. The facility's in-nest eagle camera provides a rare perspective into the day-to-day life of the bald eagles.


While other universities and government agencies have experimental research facilities containing multiple small ponds or artificial streams, ND-LEEF is 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.


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 outreach programming at ND-LEEF and as a source of information about current Notre Dame research for park visitors. 

Contact ND-LEEF Assistant Director: Brett Peters | | 574-367-7621