Science News

Major NSF Grants Awarded to Marine Biodiversity Projects

Humans are largely made up of millions of microbes, collectively called our microbiomes. These microbial "ecosystems" contribute to keeping us healthy. It's the same for corals and other species such as marine sponges, scientists are finding.

Through a new National Science Foundation (NSF) Dimensions of Biodiversity grant, Michael Lesser of the University of New Hampshire and colleagues are studying the evolutionary ecology of sponges, and how their microbiomes drive diversity on coral reefs. The project is one of 10 funded this year through the Dimensions of Biodiversity program, a unique research initiative that integrates multiple areas of study, in contrast to traditional biodiversity research that focuses on one taxonomic group or ecosystem.

A total of $18.9 million has been invested in the awards, with contributions from NSF's Directorates for Biological Sciences and for Geosciences, as well as the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) of Brazil.

"These grants will allow us to find new ways of understanding how organisms form, interact, and change through time," says James Olds, NSF assistant director for Biological Sciences. "This year's Dimensions of Biodiversity awardees will investigate some of the least-known and perplexing 'innovations of nature,' from the ability of plant plankton to metabolize vitamins, to how various types of snake venom developed, to why humidity-loving mosses can tolerate arid conditions."

The Dimensions of Biodiversity program links functional, genetic and phylogenetic dimensions of biodiversity, offering opportunities to produce rapid advances in understanding the creation, maintenance and loss of biodiversity.

"This research will help us understand, for example, the incredible diversity of marine life and how it functions," says Roger Wakimoto, NSF assistant director for Geosciences. "In a time of changing seas, that knowledge is of great importance in comprehending, and conserving, the species in Earth's vast oceans." The research will fill in gaps in biodiversity knowledge, scientists say. It also has the potential to lead to significant progress in agriculture, fuel, manufacturing and health.

2016 NSF Dimensions of Biodiversity Awards with a distinct marine science focus.

Michael Lesser, University of New Hampshire: Collaborative Research: Dimensions: Evolutionary Ecology of Sponges and their Microbiome Drives Sponge Diversity on Coral Reefs

Elena Litchman, Michigan State University: Dimensions: Collaborative Research: Genetic, functional and phylogenetic diversity determines marine phytoplankton community responses to changing temperature and nutrients

Alexandra Worden, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute: Dimensions: Collaborative Research: Functional and genomic diversity in vitamin B1 metabolism and impacts on plankton networks and productivity

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