Research Into the Impacts of a Changing Climate Supported by Two New NSF Programs
September 1, 2022
Climate change is affecting life on Earth at every scale – from the molecular to the entire ecosystem. As the make-up and number of species across the globe changes, we will continue to see impacts on the world’s food security, the bioeconomy, and the ecosystem services provided by living systems to humans. 26 projects from two new U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) programs will support investigations into climate impacts on the organism and on biodiversity. 12 projects, totaling over $14.7 million over three years, are part of the Organismal Response to Climate Change (ORCC) program. The remaining 14 are from the Biodiversity on a Changing Planet (BoCP) program and total $16.9 million over five years.
“To understand how a changing climate is impacting our world, we need to truly grasp the way it affects organisms at the individual level and the diversity of species broadly,” said Joanne Tornow, assistant director for biological sciences at NSF. “The knowledge gained from these two sets of awards can be combined to allow us to better predict what rising temperatures and other aspects of climate change mean for life on Earth.”
The ORCC awards, supported by the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO), will support research on the processes and mechanisms within organisms that change as a result of climactic change. The awards include a range of study systems, including microbial, plant, algae, and invertebrate and vertebrate animals. They also cover a range of habitats from aboveground terrestrial to belowground systems, ocean environments, freshwater, alpine systems and the tropics. The knowledge gained from these studies will serve as a foundation that, when integrated with research at other levels of organization, will lead to a deeper understanding and better predictions of the integrity, the resilience, and the adaptation of biological systems to rapidly changing environments.
BoCP projects, funded by both BIO and the Directorate for Geological Sciences, will examine how functional diversity – the distribution of traits affecting ecological performance, both among individuals within species and across species – responds to a changing planet. In particular, these projects seek to better understand how functional diversity affects the distribution, productivity, persistence, and evolution of organisms in particular ecological niches within the context of environmental change. The research will examine how species diversity impacts how well ecosystems thrive and how resilient ecosystems are to the effects of climate change. Individual projects will investigate functional biodiversity in mammals, marine species, microbes, and plants in a variety of ecosystems across the globe. Four of the awards are partially funded by an international partner organization – two by the Sao Paulo Research Foundation, and one each by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and South Africa’s National Research Foundation.
“Climate change is impacting Earth itself and the life that exists on it. Understanding how geological changes contribute to and are impacted by biological change is critical to predicting what will happen in the future,” said Alexandra Isern, assistant director for geological sciences at NSF. “Some of these projects will look at fossils and use paleontological approaches to examine the impacts of past climate change and some will look at current changes, all with the goal of gaining insight into how environmental change shapes our world.”
Both programs will support work at minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs). Institutions supported by ORCC grants include five MSIs and two PUIs. Those supported by BoCP awards include eight MSIs.
Projects supported by both programs will engage conservation practitioners and policymakers to translate the results into efforts to protect life from the negative impacts of climate change. They will also provide educational and training opportunities for students from a diverse set of backgrounds and institutions. Broader impacts of the work supported by these awards include design of educational games, connections to Research Experiences for Undergraduates and Tribal Colleges and Universities Program efforts, and professional development opportunities for K-12 teachers.
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.