Complete announcement of opportunities
BiodivERsA 2015 joint call: announcement of opportunity
!! The announcement of opportunity (section 6 "Funding") was updated on 22 May 2015 !!
Extract of the Announcement of opportunity (scientific rationale):
(1) Introduction to the 2015 BiodivERsA call for research proposals
Terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems – with their processes, habitats and species – provide human populations with direct and indirect “ecosystem services” essential for their survival and well-being: regulating services (e.g. local climate, air and water quality, carbon sequestration, pollination, biological control, moderation of extreme events, waste-water treatment, prevention of erosion); provisioning services (e.g. food, raw materials, fresh water, medicinal resources); supporting services (e.g. habitats for species, maintenance of genetic diversity); and cultural services (e.g. human recreation and health, tourism, aesthetic appreciation and inspiration for culture, art and design, spiritual experience and sense of place).
Biodiversity underpins many services provided by ecosystems that are vital to humankind but this biodiversity is under threat. Habitats of all types, including forests, grasslands, wetlands and river systems, continue to be fragmented and degraded. For species, the trend towards greater extinction risk for several taxonomic groups shows no sign of decreasing. Where ecosystem services have been assessed, many are found to be in decline and marine ecosystems fall short of their potential to provide for human needs.
The European Union, its Member States and other signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity made a commitment in 2010 to achieve the Aichi biodiversity targets and to take effective and urgent action to halt the loss of biodiversity in order to ensure that ecosystems are resilient and continue to provide essential services, thereby securing the variety of life and contributing to human wellbeing. The European Union’s 7th Environment Action Programme (7EAP) has a priority objective to protect, conserve and enhance the Union’s natural capital. The 7EAP states that recent assessments show that biodiversity in the Union is still being lost and that most ecosystems are seriously degraded as a result of various pressures. The European Union’s Biodiversity Strategy (EUBS) sets out targets and actions needed to reverse those negative trends, to halt the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services by 2020 and restore them as far as feasible. Member and Associate States have also developed their own national biodiversity strategies and action plans to address these issues. In addition, there is an increasing interest for the management of biodiversity and how it can allow the sustainable delivery of a range of ecosystem services.
In this co-funded Joint Call, BiodivERsA has chosen to focus on two subject areas for generating the knowledge and tools to help achieve these ambitious targets, i.e. research for understanding and managing biodiversity dynamics in order to improve ecosystem functioning and delivery of ecosystem services in (Theme #1) soils and sediments, and (Theme #2) land-, river- and sea-scapes(habitat connectivity, green and blue infrastructures, and naturing cities).
Research may address terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems in Europe and the Outermost Regions, Overseas Countries and Territories and dependencies of EU Member States. These overseas territories may offer particular opportunities for research on these topics due to (a) their exceptional terrestrial and marine biodiversity; (b) the exposure of their environments, economy and society to impacts of climate change, natural hazards and pressures of human activities; and (c) the often fundamental role of biodiversity in their economic development and human wellbeing. Research may be limited to mainland Europe, or overseas territories, or include both.
Building the project on an already performed or initial (1st year of project) systematic review (www.environmentalevidence.org) to optimize the project’s focus and tests of working hypotheses is possible, the cost of an initial systematic review being eligible for the current call.
In order to maximise the societal benefits from this research, projects should, where appropriate, interact closely with relevant stakeholders including, e.g., managers and users in the field, businesses, policy actors, local administrations, and citizens. This may include co-design of projects with stakeholders, analysing stakeholders' needs and preferences and other relevant societal (e.g. governance) aspects through social/economic science approaches as well as developing practical management tools, guidelines, knowledge bases, etc. to be directly used by or in relation with stakeholders. For this, it is highly recommended that the BiodivERsA Stakeholder Engagement Handbook is used as source of guidance (cf. http://www.biodiversa.org/702).
(2) Themes of the call
Submitted proposals will identify which of the 2 themes and the corresponding sub-theme(s) they address.
- Theme #1 : Understanding and managing the biodiversity dynamics of soils and sediments to improve ecosystem functioning and delivery of ecosystem services
Studying biodiversity and proposing ways to manage it in soils and sediments is increasingly needed since the organisms in those habitats contribute to ecosystem functioning and a broad range of ecosystem services (Lavelle et al. 2006, Dominati et al. 2010), and can support addressing global challenges like food, water and energy security, and climate change adaptation. The ecosystem services provided include many regulating and supporting services and different provisioning services (Haygarth and Ritz, 2009).
However the extent and functional role of this biodiversity remain largely unknown. Indeed, it is mostly composed of very small organisms that are difficult to identify (Jeffery et al. 2010) and which live in an opaque and heterogeneous medium. In particular, deciphering the diversity of soil and sediment microorganisms -viruses, bacteria and fungi- requires modern molecular tools for describing their genetic, phenotypic and functional diversity, and such tools are still in development. Furthermore, it is increasingly acknowledged that species richness is not necessarily the best variable to infer ecosystem functioning (Ritz et al. 2009, Fridley and Grime 2010, Kotowska et al. 2010). Multiple relevant dimensions (taxonomic, genotypic, phenotypic and functional) of biodiversity should be taken into account to better characterise biodiversity and understand its role for soil and sediment functioning and service delivery. For all these reasons, proposing and selecting relevant and useful indicators for biodiversity in soils and sediments as well as indicators of ecosystem health based on soil/sediment biodiversity remains a challenge.
Bridging the gap between processes and biodiversity in belowground and aboveground compartments in terrestrial systems, and between benthic and pelagic compartments in aquatic systems presents an additional challenge if we wish to account for potential cascading effects across trophic levels (Yang et al. 2009, Wardle et al. 2004 & 2005). Though the ecological mechanisms involved have been identified in short term experiments under controlled conditions, it is so far difficult to test in the field and predict their consequences on larger temporal and spatial scales because of scale-dependencies in processes and the greater heterogeneity and environmental variability in natural systems (Raffaelli and White 2013). Research on biodiversity-ecosystem services relationships should also help identification of thresholds, possible management interventions and trade-offs between services (Fornara and Tilman 2009, Milcu et al. 2010).
The biodiversity in soils and sediments and associated functioning and services should be studied in the light of global change factors. Indeed, such biodiversity is directly impacted by anthropogenic activities (Mäder et al. 2002), including the rise in the atmospheric CO2 concentration and climate change (Wolters et al. 2000) and the conversion of the majority of the Earth’s cultivable land surfaces (Ellis et al, 2010). Many of the mechanisms involved have been identified, but interacting effects between different global change factors, existence of thresholds and amplitude of feedbacks remain challenges to be tackled by the scientific community. For instance, changes in biodiversity and particularly in micro-organisms (Bardgett et al. 2008) are likely to impact the dynamics of organic matter and biogeochemical cycles which can in turn feedback on climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases or carbon sequestration. Functioning of soils and sediments and changes in biological communities and activities is now one of the major black boxes that must be opened to improve predictions on climate change.
The importance of the biodiversity of soils and sediments for the delivery of ecosystem services is increasingly recognized. However, the current management of terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems largely ignores explicit management of soil or sediment biodiversity and the regulatory processes it may foster (Kiers et al. 2007, Noguera et al. 2011). Thus, we critically need to explore and test innovative interventions (from innovative extensive or intensive practices to permaculture and restoration practices) that aim at directly or indirectly manipulating and managing key components of soil and sediment biodiversity, in order to enhance the sustainable delivery of individual or multiple ecosystem services to human societies. Research should provide knowledge and support the design of tools that would enable better use of soil and sediment biodiversity in agricultural, forested, coastal, flooded and urban/peri-urban systems, including the remediation and restoration of degraded and spoiled soils and sediments.
Main issues to be addressed
The projects may address one or more of the following: soils, freshwater sediments, and/or marine sediments.
The projects will have to address at least one of the three following sub-themes:
Sub-theme 1: Relationships between changes in soil and sediment biodiversity and ecosystem functioning and services.
Projects should focus on knowledge gaps about the links between relevant facets of this biodiversity, and ecosystem functioning and services. They could:
- Focus on poorly known mechanisms, novel techniques and approaches.
- Integrate predictions on the dynamics of soil and sediment biodiversity and the consequences in terms of ecosystem services.
- When relevant, study interactions between the dynamics of belowground and aboveground, or benthic and pelagic, biodiversity, and the outcome of feedbacks between these compartments.
Working on the delivery of ecosystem services requires the applicants to clearly identify who are the users of these services. Projects should help the integration of soil and sediment biodiversity into a more general socio-ecological ecosystem perspective, including social and economic aspects.
Sub-theme 2: Impacts of global change and anthropogenic activities on soil and sediment biodiversity, and feedbacks on global change drivers.
Projects should explicitly address (1) how global change and local/regional management affect this biodiversity, and/or (2) the role of modified soil and sediment biodiversity in ecosystem processes of particular importance for our understanding of global change. Projects should:
- Study interactive effects of multiple drivers like climate change, land-, river- or sea-use changes, pollution, urbanisation, and efforts to mitigate or reverse these pressures; and/or
- Jointly study the impacts on several types of soil and sediment organisms or the relevant dimensions of soil and sediment biodiversity, and analyse positive or negative feedbacks on services such as regulation of climate change, retention/abatment of pollutants, etc.
Successful projects are expected to address the complexity of processes driving the dynamics of biodiversity soil and sediment systemes.
Sub-theme 3: The knowledge base for innovative management of soil and sediment biodiversity to enhance ecosystem functioning and service delivery.
Projects should develop (hypothesis-driven, as for all projects) research on innovative interventions to manipulate biodiversity for enhancing the delivery of ecosystem services by soils and sediments and to manage trade-offs between ecosystem services. Key processes involved, relevant biodiversity dimensions, relevant scales, and possible drawbacks of the interventions should be explored.
Successful projects are expected to inform possible approaches to manipulate soil and sediment biodiversity in order to enhance the delivery of ecosystem services.
Part of the projects funded could be devoted to the development and testing of innovative ways to quantify soil and sediment biodiversity components, functions, and interactions, although they should include a clear demonstration of the added value for understanding soil and sediment functioning and ecosystem service delivery.
The knowledge obtained from the funded projects should (i) inform the development of robust and practical indicators for assessing biodiversity levels in these systems and associated functions and ecosystem services, and more generally biodiversity-based indicators of ecosystem status and health, and (ii) guide long-term monitoring schemes in the context of ecosystem management under global change.
Overlap with ongoing European and national projects on this theme should be avoided, although complementing ongoing research is possible.
- Theme #2 : Understanding and managing biodiversity dynamics in land-, river- and sea-scapes (habitat connectivity, green and blue infrastructures, and naturing cities) to improve ecosystem functioning and delivery of ecosystem services
Changes in the management and use of land and aquatic environments during the last decades have often led to a decrease and fragmentation of natural and semi-natural areas, and fragmentation of river networks and associated wetlands by building dams and rectifying rivers. In addition, more space is used by urbanisation for housing or developing economic areas, and by transport and energy infrastructures.
The effects of habitat loss and isolation and landscape homogenisation are severe on biodiversity, resulting in a decline of populations, decreased species richness, and homogenisation of biodiversity. Fragmentation of habitats is also a concern for marine biodiversity, e.g. in the growing pressure to build hard coastal defences (Firth et al., 2013), although the importance of e.g. seawater currents makes the issue of fragmentation specific in some sea-scapes. In addition, renewable energy installations can also influence marine biodiversity.
Fragmentation and urbanisation can also alter the delivery of ecosystem services dependent on biodiversity. For example, fragmentation and the decrease in semi-natural areas led to a decrease in bee species richness and abundance and associated pollination services (Tylianakis et al. 2008). Tackling increased loss and fragmentation of habitats, in particular non-intensively managed ones, requires the protection, management and restoration of habitats and bigger and better connected green/blue spaces for wildlife and ecosystem services needed for human well-being (Rockström et al. 2009, Nilsson et al. 2011, Grahn and Stigsdotter 2010, Standish et al 2013).
In this context, the concept of green and blue infrastructures (GBIs), sometimes referred to as ecological networks, has emerged. Although different definitions can be found, GBIs are defined here as sets of ecosystems of one type, linked into a spatially coherent system through flows of organisms, and interacting with the landscape matrix in which it is embedded, which can be used to conserve and sustain or enhance biodiversity, ecosystem functions, and provide services to human populations (e.g., McMahon 2006, Opdam et al. 2006). GBIs that incorporate ecological processes and functions in their spatial configuration, structure and design are therefore likely to support biodiversity, a range of ecosystem services including enhanced human health and well being, and the adaptive capacity and resilience of species, ecosystems and society. At present, we lack the ecological and interdisciplinary knowledge and tools for identifying the critical features of GBIs, including the socio-economic aspects, and for guiding their establishment and management and evaluating their impacts.
Dispersal and other movements of individuals are recognized as key processes for the survival of small isolated populations, meta-populations and meta-communities in a landscape or seascape. The shrinking of semi-natural areas is assumed to be partially mitigated by increasing connectivity between habitat patches. Implementation or conservation of GBIs thus seems to be a mean for biodiversity maintenance and restoration. These ideas are well-established in biodiversity conservation, protected areas management and landscape planning. However, critical scientific validation of to what extent the existing or planned GBIs are functional or not, and meet the assumptions of providing the necessary habitat connectivity and habitat amount to maintain and strengthen biodiversity and ecosystem services, is still scarce. More also needs to be known about the critical features of GBIs that determine their ecological functioning and actual impact on biodiversity, including possible drawbacks, is still scarce. Identification of connectivity is often based on a structural approach, e.g. using remote sensing maps which become more and more precise with the development of new sensors. A challenge is to identify the ecological and evolutionary consequences of the measured geometrical features and the key processes determining the functioning of GBIs, since connectivity is dependent on the type of land/river/seascapes and species involved (Kindlmann & Burel, 2008). In this context, methods to assess whether or not gene flow and dispersal occurs, and the spatio-temporal scales of dispersal in land/river/seascapes, still need to be critically evaluated (Manel & Holderer, 2013).
The relationships between ecosystem services and GBIs have barely been studied, though ecological networks are expected to enhance or maintain biodiversity levels required to enhance or maintain key services (but see Elmqvist et al. 2013). For instance, in agricultural landscapes, hedgerows and grassy strips have been studied as parts of networks increasing connectivity on the one hand, and as refuge for a wealth of species providing services (pollinators, predators for pest biocontrol etc.). The restoration of buffers along rivers for stream protection may constitute a network but it has not been studied as such, though it may function as a corridor, including for invasive species. However, the critical features of GBIs in maintaining and enhancing a range of ecosystem services often remain unknown. Research should also focus on the collaboration among actors and sectors that is needed for management and governance of GBIs in land-, river- and sea-scapes.
Identification, design, management and assessment of GBIs today should consider and account for predicted global change. For instance, during the next decades, climate change will impact biodiversity and the distribution of many species may change in response to new climatic conditions. To what extent and how this can or should be facilitated by measures to increase connectivity at the land/river/seascape and regional scales, and what can be costs, benefits and drawbacks of GBIs in a global change context, remains to be evaluated.
Another major challenge for the future is to design and manage GBIs in cities and other areas with important ‘grey’ infrastructures (roads, railways, canals, renewable energy infrastructures, etc.), including some marine areas (e.g. with renewable energy infrastructures). Ecological functioning is in some aspects specific in these areas: many elements are not permeable, fragmentation can be very high, and people-nature interactions are more intense. Human attitudes, values and behaviour are important considerations, with many residents/users taking part in nature management, enjoying and valuing ‘natural’ areas (Svendsen and Campbell 2008). This may require further research on the relationships between biodiversity and multiple ecosystem services. For instance, the extent to which biodiversity is necessary for the delivery of ecological services such as water regulation and quality or heat mitigation in urban areas (Gomez-Baggethun et al. 2013). Further research is required to better understand how urban biodiversity and green areas in cities contribute to human psychological well-being through access to green spaces, either physically or mentally (Fuller et al. 2007). The valuation of ecosystem services is a particular research challenge due to the high spatial heterogeneity, multi-functionality and multiple use of BGI in urban areas (Gómez-Baggethun and Barton, 2013). Connectivity between marine protected areas and effects on marine biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services like resources for fisheries and tourism also remain to be addressed. In addition, understanding how the development of hybrid (blue/green plus ‘grey’) structures can conserve and enhance biodiversity and the delivery of key services to human societies, and how management of such infrastructures can help to deliver multiple services, remain challenges for the scientific community. For instance, the management of linear infrastructure networks may provide freer movement for species and may create managed corridors. Communication routes may also constitute networks of more or less semi-natural vegetation that would act as corridors for small mammals, pollinators, or invasive species.
Identification, design and management of ecological networks of blue and green infrastructure in the Overseas Countries and Territories present particular challenges. Such networks often exist in isolated situations, with high levels of endemism, and vulnerability to natural hazards, invasive alien species, global environmental change and human pressures. There may also be strong links with tourism and between the livelihoods and wellbeing of local communities and biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Main issues to be addressed
The projects may address terrestrial, freshwater, and/or marine environments.
The projects will have to address at least one of the three following sub-themes:
Sub-theme 1:Critical features of green and blue infrastructures (GBIs) that determine their ability to support biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services.
Research should address how complexity and heterogeneity may interact to secure and strengthen biodiversity and ecosystem services.Overall, the projects should help designing, managing and assessing GBIs in urban and other heavily managed areas, including “hybrid engineered” systems containing ‘grey’ and ‘blue and green’ components. Interdisciplinary research is necessary to properly include human practices, humans’ motivations, the way people interact with biodiversity, and the benefits they derive from ecosystem services, especially in highly managed and populated areas.
For this theme, the focus will be on the scientific knowledge base needed to support the conservation, restoration and development of green and blue infrastructures for securing a resilient future for people and other biological species in human-dominated landscapes and seascapes.
Each project will have to make explicit the relevant temporal and spatial scales considered and processes which underpin the effect of green and blue infrastructures.
Part of the projects funded could benefit from existing green and blue infrastructures, and could generate guidelines to better implement them, assess their efficiency, and propose interventions to improve and/or safe-guard GBIs effectiveness.
Overlap with ongoing European and national projects on this theme should be avoided, although complementing ongoing research is possible.
(3) Expected European added value
The European Commission may produce a European Communication on Soils and their protection (EU, 2012). This project clearly point at the importance of the issues at stake and the necessity to protect soil health and biodiversity. Implementing more research projects on soil and sediment biodiversity at the European scale would thus help to inform discussion on further policy development in this area. More generally, the Food and Agriculture Organisation has recently pointed at the necessity to develop more researches on soils because of the current high rates of soil degradation and soil biodiversity losses. Implementing European research projects on soil diversity would thus help fulfil this need.
Similarly, habitat connectivity is recognized as important at the international, regional (EU Natura 2000 network) and national level. There is indeed a general anticipation that green or blue ecological infrastructures will conserve and strengthen ecosystem services and biodiversity. For example, the EU has decided on a Green Infrastructure Strategy (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/ecosystems/). The CBD's Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 also emphasizes the need to establish ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas that are integrated into wider land-, river- and sea-scapes. Avoiding fragmentation and improving connectivity is also an important issue in many national biodiversity strategies and action plans. However, still much ecological and interdisciplinary knowledge is lacking for identifying critical features of GBIs and for guiding their conservation, restoration, establishment and management, under current conditions and in a global change perspective.
Due to the diversity of soil/sediment and land-, river- and sea-scapes types and contexts and to the great diversity of factors constraining the dynamics of biodiversity and feedbacks to ecosystem services across Europe (mainland and overseas), it is important to fund research projects involving several European teams and possibly sites. When relevant, projects can include or focus on Outermost Regions and Overseas Countries and Territories. The projects will provide new knowledge, tools and approaches to support policy development and practical applications, and will fill the gaps identified at the European and international levels. They will also often require the participation of a range of scientific disciplines (ecologists, agronomists and foresters, climate scientists, chemists, a range of social scientists including economists, among others). Single European countries might not be able to develop and fund such projects.
Through the present call for proposals, the added value of BiodivERsA is therefore to:
- Consolidate excellent, but dispersed EU research in these domains
- Stimulate interdisciplinary researches required to address these issues
- Provide new knowledge and approaches to guide national and European institutions in their policies and policy implementation towards a better protection and sustainable management of biodiversity, enhancing ecosystem service delivery to human societies at a range of scales.