Protecting biodiversity and managing soils sustainably – new international projects

© gettyimages | Orbon Alija

From fungal biodiversity to bird distribution and biochar-compost composites: the SNSF is supporting the projects of 15 Swiss researchers involved in two international programmes.

Nature does not stop at country borders. That’s why international research cooperation on biodiversity and agricultural soils is so important. In particular, the collection and comparison of data from multiple sites strengthen the validity of the results and help generate an overall picture of the questions investigated that is hard to achieve otherwise. Against this backdrop, the SNSF is supporting the participation of 15 researchers from Swiss institutions in two international programmes. These are the first international call of the European Partnership Biodiversa+ and the second external call of the European Joint Programme (EJP) Soil.

Protecting biodiversity across land and sea

The Biodiversa+ European Partnership supports excellent research in biodiversity that has an impact on society and policy. In October 2021, it launched a call on “Supporting the protection of biodiversity and ecosystems across land and sea”. Forty-five funding agencies from 34 countries participated in the call, including the SNSF.

In total, 106 full proposals were received and evaluated by an independent Evaluation Committee. The Committee awarded grants to 36 projects, which have now started their research work. The SNSF is supporting ten researchers at Swiss institutions who have been successful in this highly competitive programme and are participating with their teams in eight of the funded projects. They include Catherine Graham from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) and Manuel Kurt Schneider from Agroscope. They are investigating the protection of species-rich grasslands and the corresponding management methods in the Alps and the Carpathians. Further, Thomas Sattler from the Swiss Ornithological Institute Sempach is looking into scenarios for protecting European avian redistributions. And Andreas Bruder from the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI) is developing principles for the conservation of aquatic fungi.

Sustainable management of agricultural soils

The European Joint Programme (EJP) Soil comprises 24 countries that are committed to the overall goal of providing sustainable agricultural soil management solutions. They will contribute to managing key societal challenges, including climate change and future food supply. In 2022, EJP SOIL launched an external call for projects on “Managing and mapping agricultural soils for enhancing soil functions and services”. Most of the land surface has been dedicated to very few crops, resulting in the current biodiversity loss, land degradation, and loss of inherent soil fertility and organic matter.

Swiss participation was envisaged in five of the 25 full proposals evaluated. The Evaluation Committee proposed 17 projects for funding. Based on the resources available to the funding agencies involved, eight projects were selected for funding. Of the four projects with Swiss participation, three will be supported by the SNSF, while the fourth involves a self-funded investigator. Christoph Hugi from the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland and Thomas Gross from Agroscope are among the new awardees and will research biochar-compost composites to mitigate climate change. How does tillage affect the mechanisms of carbon sequestration in the soil? Meret Aeppli from EPFL Valais and Stéphanie Grand from the University of Lausanne are examining this question. And Anina Gilgen of Agroscope is examining the impact of grassland management on soil carbon storage.

Biodiversa+: the continuation

The SNSF will also participate in the third and fourth Biodiversa+ calls. The preannouncement of the third call has already been published, and the launch is planned for September 2023. The topic: Nature-based solutions for biodiversity, human well-being and transformative change. Researchers will be able to submit their project outlines in November 2023.