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News Release 13-167

NSF grants foster new understanding of biological systems on regional to continental scales

Macrosystems biology awards support predictive understanding of large-scale biological responses to climate, land-use change

Photo of a pine forest

NSF MSB grantees will study forest management and Earth system modeling, from stand to continent.

September 26, 2013

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Have you looked closely at a local pond, meadow or forest and observed changes in it over time? That's exactly what scientists are trying to do on a larger, regional to continental scale--a macrosystems biology scale.

Macrosystems biology might be called biological sciences writ large.

To better detect, understand and predict the effects of climate and land-use change on organisms and ecosystems at regional to continental scales, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Biological Sciences recently awarded $15.3 million in 10 new macrosystems biology grants.

Since the Macrosystems Biology program was launched in 2011, NSF has made 50 such awards.

How will the biosphere respond to natural and human-induced changes across a range of time and space scales? What is the pace and pattern of these responses? What are the effects on ecosystem services--such as the availability of freshwater--across regions and continents?

"Scientists conducting macrosystems biology research are working to find answers to these complex questions," says John Wingfield, NSF assistant director for Biological Sciences.

"Current knowledge of the biosphere is largely based on research in small plots of land and on satellite-scale remote sensing," says Wingfield. "But the insights needed to answer critically important questions about the biosphere's future can't always be extrapolated from such studies. They require new approaches."

A significant part of these new approaches involves the integration of biology with other fields, Wingfield says, including the geosciences, engineering, mathematical and physical sciences, and social, economic and behavioral sciences.

Among the questions NSF's macrosystems biology awardees will ask are:

How are regional-scale processes in plant and animal invasions, and in disease transmission, shaped by continent-wide environmental and land-use patterns? How can continent-wide data lead to better forecasts of disease outbreaks? How do invasive species and infectious diseases arrive at new locations, sometimes across great distances?

Projects include studies of the influence of time and space scales on host-parasite interactions; modeling birds' responses to climate change; quantifying climate-forced extinction risks for lizards, amphibians, fish and plants; building local effects of forest management into Earth system models at continental scales; and investigating methane emissions from far Northern peatlands.

The projects criss-cross regions and continents, and bring together scientists from biological sciences, geosciences and other fields in an effort to find out what makes Earth's biosphere tick.

2013 NSF Macrosystems Biology Awards

Randall Boone, Colorado State University, Modeling avian responses to climate change using evolving occurrence models

Additional Collaborator: Sunil Kumar, Colorado State University

Elizabeth Borer, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Within-host microbial communities: Experimentally scaling interaction dynamics across sites, regions, and continents

Additional Collaborators: Linda Kinkel, Georgiana May and Eric Seabloom, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities; and Kevin Gross, North Carolina State University

Songlin Fei, Purdue University, Predicting Regional Invasion Dynamic Processes (PRIDE)--Developing a cross-scale, functional-trait based modeling framework

Additional Collaborators: Bryan Pijanowski, Purdue University; and Qinfeng Guo and Christopher Oswalt, USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station

Jason McLachlan, University of Notre Dame, PalEON--a PaleoEcological Observatory Network to assess terrestrial ecosystem models

Additional Collaborators: Michael Dietze, Trustees of Boston University; Paul Duffy, Neptune and Company, Inc.; Andrew Finley, Michigan State University; Stephen Jackson, University of Wyoming; Philip Higuera, University of Idaho; Mevin Hooten, Colorado State University; Jennifer Marlon, Yale University; David Moore, University of Arizona; Neil Pederson, Columbia University; and John Williams and Jun Zhu, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Jason Rohr, University of South Florida, The influence of temporal and spatial scales on drivers of host-parasite interactions

Additional Collaborator: Barry Sinervo, University of California-Santa Cruz

Benjamin Ruddell, Arizona State University, A new theory and data product quantifying ecosystem sensitivity to climate change

Additional Collaborator: Daniel Childers, Arizona State University

Barry Sinervo, University of California-Santa Cruz, Quantifying climate-forced extinction risks for lizards, amphibians, fishes, and plants

Additional Collaborators: Aaron Bauer, Villanova University; Donald Miles, Ohio University; Jarmila Pittermann, University of California-Santa Cruz; and Jack Sites, Brigham Young University

Christina Staudhammer, University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, Building forest management into Earth system modeling: Scaling from stand to continent

Additional Collaborators: Michael Binford, University of Florida; Lindsay Boring, J W Jones Ecological Center; Ankur Desai, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Michael Dietze, Trustees of Boston University; Paul Duffy, Neptune and Company, Inc.; Jerry Franklin, University of Washington; Robert Mitchell, Ichauway, Inc.; Gregory Starr, University of Alabama Tuscaloosa; and Paul Stoy, Montana State University

Christopher Still, Oregon State University, Thermal controls on ecosystem metabolism and function: Scaling from leaves to canopies to regions

Additional Collaborators: Michael Goulden, University of California-Irvine; Brent Helliker, University of Pennsylvania; Rebecca Powell, Wake Forest University; Andrew Richardson, Harvard University; and Dar Roberts, University of California-Santa Barbara

Ruth Varner, University of New Hampshire, Investigating northern peatland methane dynamics by synthesizing measurements, remote sensing and modeling from local to regional to continental scales

Additional Collaborators: Bobby Braswell, Applied GeoSolutions, LLC; Mark Hines, University of Massachusetts Lowell; Changsheng Li, University of New Hampshire; Michael Palace, University of New Hampshire; and Scott Saleska, University of Arizona


Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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