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Directorate for Biological Sciences
Division of Environmental Biology

The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) supports fundamental research on the origins, functions, relationships, interactions, and evolutionary history of populations, species, communities, and ecosystems. Scientific emphases include biodiversity, molecular genetic and genomic evolution, mesoscale ecology, conservation biology, global change, and restoration ecology.

DEB also supports computational biology research (including modeling); a network of long-term ecological research sites; doctoral dissertation research; research conferences and workshops; and a variety of other NSF-wide activities.

Systematic And Population Biology Cluster

The Systematic and Population Biology Cluster of thematic areas is located within the Division of Environmental Biology and supports research on the patterns and causes of diversity within and among populations and species. Research projects in Systematic Biology and Biodiversity Surveys and Inventories may involve any group of organisms, including terrestrial, freshwater, and marine taxa, and may range in subject from microbes to multicellular plants, animals, and fungi. Studies of populations of any groups of organisms in terrestrial, wetland, or freshwater habitats are considered in Population Biology.

1. Population Biology

Focuses on measuring population properties and understanding processes that lead to variation within and between populations. Approaches include empirical and theoretical studies of population structure and dynamics, microevolution, organismal adaptation, geographical differentiation, natural hybridization and speciation, and processes that lead to macroevolutionary patterns of trait evolution. Research areas include:

  • Population Ecology—Supports studies of single species from an ecological and evolutionary perspective, including life history and life cycle phenomena of terrestrial, freshwater, and wetland organisms; demography of age- and stage-structured populations; population dynamics, including linear, nonlinear, and stochastic approaches; and patterns of natural and sexual selection.
  • Evolutionary Genetics—Supports studies of the causes and consequences of variation, change, selection, and evolution of biochemical characteristics, RNA and DNA sequences, mobile elements, and genic organization and function; the evolution of genetic architecture; evolutionary genomics; and population and quantitative genetics.
  • Evolution of Phenotypes—Supports studies of how the properties of genes (number, arrangement, and pattern) and their interactions, including epigenetics and development, determine evolutionary processes; and how micro- and macro-evolutionary processes explain the evolution of complex phenotypes.

Research that addresses aspects of ecology and evolutionary biology is also supported within other parts of the National Science Foundation. Studies that focus on organism-centered analyses of physiology, morphology, behavior, or development should be directed to the Division of Integrative Biology and Neuroscience (IBN) (see information on IBN elsewhere in the BIO chapter). Studies that focus on marine organisms should be directed to the Biological Oceanography Program in the Division of Ocean Sciences (see the Directorate for Geosciences chapter of this Guide). Studies that focus on interactions among species should be directed to Ecology in the Ecological Studies Cluster, elsewhere in the DEB section. Interdisciplinary studies are welcome.

2. Systematic Biology

Main focus areas include (1) taxonomic revisions and monographs to improve biological classifications and nomenclature (titles should be prefaced “REVSYS” and may be submitted to this or the Biodiversity Surveys and Inventories Program); (2) phylogenetic analyses that produce or test phylogenetic hypotheses or models and the use of phylogenies to elucidate comparative studies, including those of morphology development and molecular evolution; (3) studies that lead to better methods of taxonomic identification and practice or advances in classificatory theory; (4) understanding the patterns and processes of biological diversity at and above the level of species; and (5) theoretical and comparative empirical studies—such as those of morphology, paleontology, biogeography, sequence data or genomes—that contribute to knowledge or models of the origin, diversification, distribution, and extinction of species and clades, or that determine the tempo and mode of evolutionary change at higher levels. Also included is the Special Competitions for Partnerships for Enhancing Expertise in Taxonomy, the deadline dates for which are announced via special solicitation (see NSF 00-140 for the latest program announcement and guidelines).

3. Biodiversity Surveys and Inventories (BS&I)

The main focus areas of the BS&I Program include collecting, identifying, vouchering, and describing the species-level diversity of all forms of life on Earth, from microbes to mammals, including expeditionary work to document biotic diversity in poorly known terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments. Supported surveys may be primarily area-based (focusing on species inventory and new species discovery, plus in some cases ecological, biogeographic, and/or evolutionary hypothesis testing), primarily clade-based (continental-scale to global species inventory and discovery within a particular taxonomic group), or primarily guild-based (surveys that couple species inventory and discovery with macroecological, historical biogeographic, and/or macroevolutionary hypothesis testing). Beginning in 2003, the BS&I Program is partnering with the ALL Species Foundation and other parts of NSF to support planetary biodiversity inventories (PBI) of the worldwide, species-level diversity of entire major groups of organisms. Proposed taxonomic revisions and monographs that improve biological classifications and nomenclature should be prefaced “REVSYS” and may be submitted to this or the Systematic Biology Program.

Ecological Studies Cluster

The Ecological Studies Cluster is located within the Division of Environmental Biology and supports research on natural and managed ecological systems, primarily in terrestrial, wetland, and freshwater habitats. Research areas include experimental, theoretical, and modeling studies on the structure and function of complex biotic/abiotic associations and the coupling of small-scale systems to each other and to large-scale systems. Projects are encouraged that develop conceptual and synthetic linkages, such as theoretical and modeling studies; that are conducted at one or more scales of ecological organization; and that synthesize empirical and theoretical findings into new ecological paradigms.

1. Ecosystem Studies

Supports mechanistic or empirical investigations of whole-system ecological processes and relationships in the following areas: biogeochemistry (such as studies of decomposition), global and regional elemental budgets, and biotic versus abiotic controls of nutrient cycles; primary productivity, particularly ecophysiology within an ecosystem framework; and landscape dynamics, with an emphasis on quantitative models of disturbances, ecosystem resilience, and successional patterns.

2. Ecology

Supports community ecology and population interactions in such areas as dynamics and processes within specific communities or habitats; food-Web structure and landscape patterns formed by community dynamics; paleoecology; and organismal interactions, such as mutualism, plant/animal interactions, competition, predation, coevolution, and chemical or evolutionary ecology.

3. Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER)

Supports investigations of whole ecosystems and their component organisms and processes at sites that represent major biomes. Projects are multidisciplinary and actively encourage collaborative research with nonecological investigators. The deadline for submission of proposals is announced only via special solicitations. Unsolicited proposals will not be accepted.

4. Long-Term Research in Environmental Biology (LTREB)

Supports smaller studies that focus on evolutionary or ecological phenomena and require long-term investigation. These awards are designed to provide funding to help maintain ongoing long-term research projects. LTREB awards are not a source of startup funds to initiate long-term research, nor does DEB envision that LTREB projects will be the main source of extramural support for investigators. For further information, visit the LTREB Web site at

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