Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Almost DKK 120 million for biodiversity research at AU

AU researchers will receive a total of DKK 119.1 million to establish research centres to find research-based solutions to future-proofing biodiversity in a volatile climate with ever-increasing resource needs. The grants are from the Novo Nordisk Foundation and are a part of the Novo Nordisk Foundation Challenge Programme.

2020.10.05 | Rasmus Rørbæk

ill: Colourbox

ill: Colourbox

AU researchers will receive a total of DKK 119.1 million to establish research centres to find research-based solutions to future-proofing biodiversity in a volatile climate with ever-increasing resource needs. The grants are from the Novo Nordisk Foundation and are a part of the Novo Nordisk Foundation Challenge Programme.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation Challenge Programme was established in 2014, and since then, the foundation has awarded a generous amount of funding each year for ambitious research projects that focus on global challenges under a variety of themes.

In 2020, focus was primarily on biodiversity, and at the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Aarhus University, two researchers have received a total of DKK 119.1 million to establish research activities.

"It's great recognition of the high level of professionalism at our faculty, and I'm very proud of the trust that the Novo Nordisk Foundation has placed in the research conducted at Aarhus University and NAT. Climate change will present challenges for many aspects of life on our planet, not least biodiversity, and I'm pleased that no fewer than two new research centres can now contribute to creating knowledge and solutions due to these generous grants. I congratulate the recipients. Many of us look forward to following your important work," says Dean Kristian Pedersen.

A total of three centres have been selected this year for the Novo Nordisk Foundation Challenge Programme focusing on biodiversity. Two of the centres are located at the Department of Biology, Aarhus University, and will be headed by Professor Trine Bilde and Professor Signe Normand.

The big picture for small creatures

One centre is called EcoGenetics: Center for Ecological Genetics and is headed by Professor Trine Bilde at the Department of Biology.

The research centre will investigate whether the observed dramatic declines in insect populations have also led to a loss of genetic diversity and how the genetic diversity of populations is affected by the interplay between the habitat requirements of animals and the use of natural areas. The research will investigate whether lower genetic diversity threatens the biological functions of species and makes populations more vulnerable to environmental changes and outbreaks of disease.

"Insects are extremely important in both natural and cultivated ecosystems. We are apparently seeing significant population declines, but we know very little about what the consequences of these will be to genetic diversity. Loss of genetic diversity can exacerbate the loss of biodiversity and the important functions of the animals, e.g. pollination and natural pest control.

It is therefore important to understand how we can maintain genetic diversity in natural populations. Our research examines the interplay between animal biology and land-use intensity in the areas where animals live in order to maintain healthy and diverse populations via large-scale genomic analyses," says Trine Bilde, who will receive DKK 59.1 million for her research.

Rethinking the Danish landscape

Professor Signe Normand, Department of Biology, is in charge of the second centre, which will be called SustainScapes - Center for Sustainable Landscapes under Global Change and will receive DKK 60 million.

The centre will help us understand how changes in land use and climate conditions have historically impacted biodiversity across Denmark. Based on the new knowledge, the project will develop tools to predict how and in which areas ecosystem restoration will contribute to maintain biodiversity into the future.

"With SustainScapes, we will rethink the use of the Danish landscape and explore nature-based solutions for maintaining biodiversity. We will contribute new knowledge about where – and how quickly – we can expect biodiversity to recover and we will be using data from space to monitor the changes.

By linking local and global models, we will make local choices in a global context. We will strive to provide local, sustainable solutions benefiting biodiversity, the climate and bio-based production. We want to make it easier for citizens and decision-makers to initiate local initiatives for a sustainable future", says Signe Normand.

The centre will be established in close collaboration with the Department of Agroecology at the Faculty of Technical Sciences in Foulum, and Professor Tommy Dalgaard from the Department of Agroecology will lead the centre together with Professor Signe Normand.

"A close collaboration between agroecologists and biologists is central to ensuring sustainable land use – where the need to accommodate biodiversity, climate and production is assessed simultaneously. With SustainScapes, we want to help industry and farmers navigate the new opportunities and realities that will arise, for example by developing new methods of studying the long-term effects and consequences of climatic changes for our soil resources," says Tommy Dalgaard.

The gauntlet has been thrown down for 2021

Every year, the Novo Nordisk Foundation Challenge Programme awards large grants to ambitious research projects that focus on global challenges within various themes. The foundation has just opened applications for next year's Challenge Programme, which will allocate up to a total of DKK 360 million to projects that focus on how cross-disciplinary research can solve the challenges of tomorrow related to disease and food.

Read more about the Challenge Programme 2021via this link.

Read more about this year's grants via this link (must have a link to the NNF News)

Contact:
Professor Trine Bilde,
Department of Biology, Aarhus Universitet.
Tlf.: 60202702,
E-mail: trine.bilde@bio.au.dk

Professor Signe Normand,
Department of Biology, Aarhus Universitet.
Tlf.:23718009,
E-mail: signe.normand@bio.au.dk 

Professor Tommy Dalgaard,
Department of Agroecology, Aarhus Universitet.
Tlf.: 20706132,
E-mail: tommy.dalgaard@agro.au.dk 

Department of Biology