Diversity of Life on Earth: NSF Awards Grants for Study of Dimensions of Biodiversity
Earth losing species more rapidly than scientists can understand the roles they play
Earth is losing species more rapidly than scientists can understand the roles these species play and how they function.
With this loss comes, biologists believe, lost opportunities to understand the history of life, to better predict the future of the living world and to make beneficial discoveries in the areas of food, fiber, fuel, pharmaceuticals and bio-inspired innovation.
To characterize the lesser-known aspects of the diversity of life on Earth, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is now in the second year of its decade-long Dimensions of Biodiversity campaign.
The effort, funded by NSF's Directorate for Biological Sciences along with its Directorate for Geosciences and Office of Polar Programs, aims to transform, by 2020, how scientists describe and understand the scope and role of life on Earth.
NSF recently awarded grants for 11 new Dimensions of Biodiversity projects that total approximately $19 million. This includes a new International Research Coordination Network, bringing the entire number of active Dimensions of Biodiversity projects to 27.
"By establishing networks of interdisciplinary, globally-engaged scientists, Dimensions of Biodiversity will have a lasting effect on biodiversity science," says John Wingfield, NSF Assistant Director for Biological Sciences. "It has the potential to transform the way we conduct biological research in this arena."
The Dimensions of Biodiversity campaign is important, says Wingfield, because assessing the living diversity of Earth is not as straightforward as simply listing species.
There are more than 450,000 beetle species on the planet, for example, but only 270 or so species of cat- or dog-like carnivores.
The domestic dog, on the other hand, is just one sub-species of carnivore, but includes hundreds of artificially selected breeds and varieties spanning a range of sizes, shapes and temperaments.
Species (beetles) and genetic (dog breed) variation represent just two types of biodiversity. There's also diversity in the evolutionary history of groups of species; the ecological links among them; their functions; and the benefits they provide humans, among others.
All species rely on a vast network of mostly invisible and largely unknown life forms, such as bacteria and fungi.
As a result, most aspects of Earth's biodiversity still remain unknown. Characterizing these dimensions of biodiversity and how they interact is increasingly important given the pace of global change.
Addressing the knowledge gaps in understanding biodiversity, scientists say, will require new thinking and a coordinated effort among several sub-disciplines of biology.
An important distinction of the Dimensions of Biodiversity initiative is the simultaneous investigation of the links and feedbacks between genetic, phylogenetic, taxonomic and functional dimensions of biodiversity, says Joann Roskoski, NSF deputy assistant director for Biological Sciences.
Roskoski says that the innovative and interdisciplinary teams of the Dimensions of Biodiversity campaign "may accomplish in 10 years what, with a piecemeal approach, would have taken 50 years--a half-century we can no longer afford to wait."
The Dimensions of Biodiversity campaign is developing the workforce and partnerships necessary for the unique human- and cyber-infrastructure challenges of an interdisciplinary network of researchers.
Dimensions currently has partnerships with NASA and funding agencies in China and Brazil.
NASA is co-funding projects that use remote sensing technologies to expand biodiversity investigations across broad spatial scales.
International partnerships are supporting the exchange of students and scientists, joint research projects, and the digitization of biological collections.
Dimensions is also using a distributed graduate seminar to assess what is currently known about the taxonomic, phylogenetic, genetic and functional dimensions of biodiversity.
This baseline assessment will be available to the broader scientific community to help evaluate and direct the Dimensions of Biodiversity campaign.
2011 NSF DIMENSIONS OF BIODIVERSITY AWARDS
Title: Pattern and process in marine bacterial, archaeal, and protistan biodiversity, and effects of human impacts
Title: Coexistence, herbivore host choice, and plant-herbivore evolution in the recently radiated and speciose Neotropical tree genus, Inga
Title: Integrating dimensions of Solanum biodiversity: Leveraging comparative and experimental transcriptomics to understand functional responses to environmental change
Title: Diversity and symbiosis: Examining the taxonomic, genetic, and functional diversity of amphibian skin microbiota
Title: Integrating genetic, taxonomic, and functional diversity of tetrapods across the Americas and through extinction risk
Title: Lake Baikal responses to global change: The role of genetic, functional and taxonomic diversity in the plankton
Title: Functional diversity of microbial trophic guilds defined using stable isotope ratios of proteins
Title: The climate cascade: Functional and evolutionary consequences of climatic change on species, trait, and genetic diversity in a temperate ant community
Title: An integrated study of energy metabolism, carbon fixation, and colonization mechanisms in chemosynthetic microbial communities at deep-sea vents
Title: Functional diversity of marine eukaryotic phytoplankton and their contributions to carbon and nitrogen cycling
Title: IRCN (International Research Coordination Network): A Research Coordination Network for Biodiversity of Ciliates
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.
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