Research and protect natural resources

October 13, 2010

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) aims to increase the knowledge of our natural resources. At its autumn meeting in Bonn, Germany's central research funding organisation resolved to issue an announcement for a DFG Research Centre on "Integrative Biodiversity Research". This is to be established by October 2012. The new centre will be the seventh DFG Research Centre and, like the others, is to serve as a strategic funding instrument on important topics for establishing internationally visible and competitive research institutions at German universities.

The announcement for the new Research Centre follows an intensive discussion process within science and the humanities and the largest science organisations and in the statutory bodies of the DFG. During this process, biodiversity was identified as an area with a particularly urgent need for research. "Biodiversity is the foundation of our life and is critically endangered, as the dramatic decrease in species and the far-reaching changes resulting from land-use- and climate change show", emphasised DFG President Professor Matthias Kleiner. To more strongly protect natural resources is an objective that nearly everyone can agree on. What measures are needed to achieve this goal is, however, open for debate. "Above all, we are lacking sound knowledge on the very complex causal mechanisms that are at play here", said Kleiner.

To clarify these causal mechanisms, biodiversity research aims to merge together expertise from a wide range of different scientific disciplines in the life and natural sciences, as well as the humanities and social sciences. The DFG addressed this dynamic field early on and, in addition to the establishment of a Senate Commission for Biodiversity Research, has already funded several research associations, including the so-called biodiversity exploratories. "There is no shortage of internationally visible working groups in Germany", said DFG President Kleiner, "but they are spread over a number of locations. Currently, there is no single location at which extensive biodiversity research is performed that covers the necessary spectrum of specialisation."

It is hoped that this "critical mass" will now be achieved through the Research Centre for which proposals are now being accepted. "This is also urgently necessary in an international context, since biodiversity research is, to a certain extent, more strongly established abroad. If Germany is not able to establish itself among the international leading group in the coming years, it will - in the long term - be excluded from international competition in this area of research", emphasised Kleiner.

The centre is to pursue a series of thematic focus areas in which very well equipped working groups led by internationally renowned researchers are established. They are to address diverse ecological interactions, the evolution and adaptation of organisms and biocoenoses with theory and modelling and scientific fundamentals of nature conservation. The centre should also contribute to the establishment of a forward-looking research infrastructure for measurements and experiments in the laboratory and in the field, as well as to the establishment of high-performance biodiversity informatics. The topicality of the pursued research topics on an internationally high level should be ensured by an "Advanced Study Programme" with guest researchers and postdocs. Another central task of the centre is the collection, analysis and synthesis of complex interdisciplinary datasets and information. The centre is to be concentrated at a university, whereby collaboration with non-university research institutions is desired.

The establishment of the centre will be decided in a two-stage procedure. The universities can apply through mid-January 2011, initially with draft proposals. Following the review process by an international peer review panel, particularly promising initiatives will be selected in July 2011 by the Senate of the DFG, for which the universities will then submit detailed proposals. After these are reviewed, the DFG's Joint Committee will make a decision about the establishment in April 2012. The centre can be funded by the DFG for a maximum of twelve years; the universities can apply for between four and seven million euros per year. The centre will be evaluated every four years, after which a decision on its further funding will be made.

The Research Centre programme was initiated by the DFG in 2000 as a particularly strategic funding instrument. Currently, six Research Centres are funded. The first three centres - "The Ocean in the Earth System" in Bremen, "Functional Nanostructures" in Karlsruhe and "Experimental Biomedicine" in Würzburg - were established in 2001 and, in 2009, were extended with a third funding period until the middle of 2013. The "Matheon - Mathematics for Key Technologies" centre in Berlin has been in operation since 2002 and was likewise extended for a second time this year until the middle of 2014. Also established in 2002 was the "Molecular Physiology of the Brain" centre in Göttingen, which is currently undergoing the review process for the second extension. The youngest centre at present, "Regenerative Therapies" in Dresden, was established in 2006 and is in the second funding period until the end of 2013.

With their bundled scientific competence and cooperation between universities and non-university research institutions, the Research Centres have also become a model for the clusters of excellence in the Excellence Initiative of the German federal and state governments. Four of the six centres are currently funded as clusters of excellence. Unlike the clusters of excellence, the announcements for the Research Centres of the DFG are for specific topics. They are intended to establish internationally visible research institutions, strengthen the profile and the establishment of priorities at the respective universities and establish educational and career conditions for the young researchers.
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Further information

Detailed information on the DFG Research Centres can be found at: http://www.dfg.de/en/research_funding/programmes/coordinated_programmes/research_centres/index.html

The announcement for the DFG Research Centre on "Integrative Biodiversity Research" can be found at: http://www.dfg.de/en/research_funding/announcements_proposals/info_wissenschaft_10_55/index.html

Contact at the DFG Head Office for technical questions on biodiversity research: Dr. Roswitha Schönwitz, Life Sciences Division, Tel. +49 228 885-2362, Roswitha.Schoenwitz@dfg.de

On the Research Centres as a funding instrument : Brit Redöhl, Collaborative Research Centres Division, Research Centres, Clusters of Excellence, tel. +49 228 885-2531, Brit.Redoehl@dfg.de

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

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