Species are disappearing at an alarming rate, threatening nature's ability to provide us with essential goods and services like clean air and water, food, fuel, materials, climate regulation and flood prevention, to name just a few. Enter the EU-funded ERA-NET project BIODIVERSA, which is working to create a single biodiversity research community in Europe. BIODIVERSA, which is now in its second phase, has received funding from the EU's Sixth and Seventh Framework Programmes (FP7).
Before the BIODIVERSA project came along, funding for biodiversity research in Europe was fragmented and funding agencies engaged in relatively few joint activities. Yet pan-European cooperation is vital for biodiversity research for a number of reasons. In some cases, the European scale is simply the most logical one.
Project Coordinator Dr Xavier Le Roux of France's Foundation for Research on Biodiversity gives the example of invasive species. 'By definition they will cross borders and if you need to develop a management plan for an invasive species, maybe it makes sense to develop a European management plan, and not only a national one,' he tells Research Headlines.
New and emerging topics, such as the valorisation of biodiversity and ecosystem services (in which scientists attempt to quantify the value of biodiversity and the services provided by nature), are also best tackled at the international level. In these cases, it is unlikely that any one country will have sufficient expertise to run a research programme on its own; European collaboration is essential. In addition, BIODIVERSA can support pan-European research projects of a size complementary to traditional IP [Integrated Project] support by the European Commission, and likely more suitable to create actual interdisciplinary work and stakeholder engagement.
Today, BIODIVERSA links up 21 funding agencies in 15 European countries and is effectively constructing a European Research Area (ERA) in biodiversity research. BIODIVERSA's core activity is the funding of biodiversity research through joint calls for proposals. Projects are selected principally on the basis of two criteria: scientific excellence and policy relevance.
The first joint call, launched in 2008, provided over EUR 14 million to 12 projects in the areas of global change and biodiversity dynamics, ecosystem functioning and ecosystem services. Projects funded are studying the impacts of climate change on biodiversity; the use of fire in biodiversity maintenance; the effect of pollution, precipitation and temperature on peatbog biodiversity; the effectiveness of conservation areas and networks; and the impacts of climate change on insects.
A second call, with a total budget of EUR 11 million, was launched in November 2010. Part of the call is devoted to the relationships between biodiversity and the ability of an ecosystem to provide services such as food and water provision, climate regulation, and crop pollination, to name just a few. Although there is evidence of a link between biodiversity and ecosystem services, these links are complex and poorly understood.
BIODIVERSA is also eager to fund projects studying new ways of placing a value on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Although a clear economic value can usually be assigned to the provision of goods such as food, fuel, materials and medicinal plants, the same cannot be said for services such as climate regulation or the provision of cultural services such as recreation opportunities.
Finally, the call will fund projects that will address ways of developing policies that will both protect biodiversity and thereby ensure the long-term sustainability of a wide range of essential ecosystem services.
Looking to the future, BIODIVERSA's members recently pledged to launch a joint call for proposals every year. 'It's a very powerful commitment by the partners,' comments Dr Le Roux.
Another recent development in BIODIVERSA is the establishment of a common rolling research agenda for all agencies involved in the project. As well as setting out the key topics to be addressed by BIODIVERSA, this document will set out the kinds of activities to be carried out and look at how to communicate research findings to policymakers and others and how to make best use of research infrastructures, for example.
The project is also expanding its geographical reach; recent additions to the BIODIVERSA network include funding agencies in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Turkey.
For Dr Le Roux, the BIODIVERSA project has a key role to play in raising awareness among policymakers and other stakeholders of the importance of tackling biodiversity loss. Ultimately, the projects funded under BIODIVERSA will ensure that future generations continue to benefit from the many products and services provided by healthy, diverse ecosystems.
'It's really of paramount importance to support biodiversity research,' he states. 'We hope that the activity of initiatives such as BIODIVERSA will help to support people working in the field and also promote awareness of the fact that biodiversity is really one of the grand challenges.'