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A step forward

Partnership between FAPESP and NSF brings together researchers from Brazil and the United States to learn more about the processes that affect biodiversity in Brazil

Trees of the Amazon...

Léo RamosTrees of the Amazon…Léo Ramos

FAPESP and the National Science Foundation (NSF) took a step forward to bolster the partnership established in 2011 to study biodiversity in Brazil. Last December, the third call for proposals was issued for scientific cooperation under the principal lines of financing for biological diversity studies in the two agencies: the Biota-FAPESP and Dimensions of Biodiversity programs. The purpose is to stimulate research collaboration among scientists through projects that contribute to advances in biodiversity studies in Brazil and the US Projects that are approved will receive up to US$2 million from each foundation.

The idea is that the proposals will include the three dimensions of biodiversity (genetic, taxonomic and functional) to understand how they contribute to health, how ecosystems work, and how biology adapts to environmental changes. “The required interdisciplinary nature of the projects that are submitted is one of the key distinguishing features of this partnership,” notes Regina Costa de Oliveira, Biological and Agronomical Sciences Area Director of the FAPESP Board of Scientific Directors and coordinator of the call for proposals. According to Costa de Oliveira, FAPESP values partnerships with large institutions such as the NSF because they involve many researchers and scientific production is intense.

The selection of proposals is part of a broader call for proposals published every year by the Dimensions of Biodiversity program, in which researchers from US institutions participate in projects funded by the NSF or projects launched in partnerships with other foundations. From 2003 to 2007, experience sharing between the Biota program coordination unit and NSF administration was intense. In 2010, these contacts were a factor that led the NSF to initiate a 10-year project for investments in research, technology infrastructure, the labor force and data collection and synthesis in an integrated study campaign with the goal of characterizing the dimension of biological diversity on Earth. At the same time, FAPESP renewed the Biota-FAPESP partnership for ten more years. Some of the objectives of the second phase now underway are: international partnerships; expanding the geographical coverage beyond the state of São Paulo; increasing coastal and marine biodiversity research and continuing to prioritize educational programs.

...and the Atlantic Forest: projects that seek to better understand the origin and evolution of plant biodiversity

Eduardo Cesar…and the Atlantic Forest: projects that seek to better understand the origin and evolution of plant biodiversityEduardo Cesar

In 2013, in a partnership with Pesquisa FAPESP, the program held a series of lectures to discuss the challenges of preserving Brazil’s main ecosystems, as doing so helps to improve the quality of scientific and environmental education in Brazil. With 13 years of history in the characterization, preservation, restoration and sustainable use of biodiversity, Biota-FAPESP has already financed more than 120 research projects, the results of which have helped decision-makers in research projects better identify and characterize the priority areas for preservation and restoration in the state of São Paulo.

“Relations between Brazilian and US researchers have fostered major advances in our understanding of the processes that govern the diversification, maintenance and loss of biodiversity in Brazil,” says Simon Malcomber, coordinator of Dimensions of Biodiversity program. Malcomber expects that these collaborative activities will promote scientific and economic development in both countries, generating a highly trained labor force that is internationally engaged in environmental research.

Approved projects
The result of the first call was announced in September 2012. An ambitious project, coordinated by biologist Lúcia Lohmann of the USP Biosciences Institute, hopes to understand why the Amazon Rainforest is home to the greatest variety of plants and animals in the world (see Pesquisa FAPESP Issue No. 200). To accomplish this, a multidisciplinary team of 30 Brazilian and US researchers are working to attempt to reconstruct the relationship, evolutionary history and spatial distribution of animal and plant groups such as Bignoniaceas, a family of plants that includes plants of the genus Tabebuia and the jacaranda tree, and Lecythidaceae, a group that includes the Brazil nut tree.

Flower of the Amazon

Léo RamosFlower of the Amazon…Léo Ramos

If the project moves forward, the researchers hope to be able to identify key moments in the diversification of the species of these groups and reconstruct their biogeographic histories. In this way, they hope to better understand the origin and evolution of the region’s biodiversity. “We want to reconstruct the history of the Amazon over the last 20 million years,” Lohmann explains. “But first we need to better understand the history of biodiversity in the region, as well as the transformations that have occurred in the ecosystem. Only then will we be able to understand the influence specific geological events, such as the rise of the Andes, have had on the diversification of species in the Amazon.” Lohmann also plans to investigate whether these diversification events are associated with climatic events and biochemical cycles, not to mention other environmental aspects from the past.

Integrated analyses
The work has progressed considerably and four articles have been published to date, in addition to five more that are in the pipeline. Last year, the project was cited by the journal Science, which emphasized the project’s potential to produce insights related to biodiversity in the Amazon. The groups are still working in isolation, but Lohmann is arranging a meeting for them from February 16 to 21 at the National Institute for Amazonian Research (Inpa) in Manaus to discuss the advances made in this first year of research and set new goals and working protocols for 2014.

... mushrooms of the Atlantic Forest: The goal is to identify the principal peaks in species diversification

… and mushrooms of the Atlantic Forest: The goal is to identify the principal peaks in species diversification

At the same time, Lohmann is involved in another project that is characterizing the distribution and diversity of animal and plant species in the Atlantic Forest. The project was approved in 2013 in the second FAPESP-NSF call for proposals. Coordinated by biologist Cristina Miyaki of the USP Biosciences Institute, researchers from several areas are working to better understand the history of this ecosystem, one of the ecosystems in Brazil that has declined the most. In February, they will meet at a workshop at FAPESP headquarters in São Paulo. “The goal is to bring researchers together to describe what each one is doing so that we can begin to think about how each group’s progress can help better document the patterns of biodiversity in the Atlantic Forest,” explains Miyaki, who is also an organizer of the event. This will be the first time that the teams will meet face-to-face, says Costa de Oliveira. “We want to hold these meetings every year,” she says.

“We’re excited about the potential of this and other projects to expand our knowledge of the processes that influence biodiversity in these two Brazilian ecosystems,” says Malcomber of the Dimensions of Biodiversity program. Even though it is just two years old, Malcomber states that he is satisfied with the collaborative nature of the work. “The teams of researchers have made significant progress,” he says. “We hope they continue to push the limits of the science of biodiversity.” For Costa de Oliveira, partnerships such as this one increase the critical mass of thinking on various topics related to biodiversity. “We’re using Brazilian biodiversity as a starting point for an analysis that involves a great mix of specialties, and their research will resonate in many other countries,” she says.