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DKK 179 million will boost research on biodiversity

The Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded grants of DKK 179 million for research on biodiversity. The recipients are: Trine Bilde and Signe Normand, professors at Aarhus University and Per Gundersen, a professor at the University of Copenhagen.

Increased human activity and the demand for food, materials and other resources in the past century have placed enormous pressure on the Earth’s ecosystems and the species that live in them. This has led to a substantial and continually accelerating decline in the number of species and biodiversity across the globe.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation is awarding grants totalling DKK 179 million to determine how we ensure stable agricultural and forestry production under a changing climate while ensuring biodiversity. The Foundation is supporting three new research centres that will examine various aspects of biodiversity through its 2020 Challenge Programme. This is the largest total amount awarded so far for research on biodiversity in Denmark.

The grants will contribute to discovering research-based solutions on how we manage agriculture and forestry in the future to produce ever-increasing quantities of food, energy and various types of materials while strengthening ecosystems that benefit biodiversity.

“One of the greatest challenges at the global level is to ensure the production of enough food for a growing population while preserving and restoring our biodiversity. The question is not whether to invest in either rich biodiversity or intensive food production, because we need to do both to meet existing and future demands. This is why we are proud to be able to boost biodiversity research by awarding grants to three unique projects, each of which in its own way will help to find key solutions to problems we are all responsible for solving,” says Claus Felby, Senior Vice President, Biotech, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Investigating insects, landscapes and trees

Trine Bilde, Professor, Department of Biology, Aarhus University will lead a project called The Missing Link: Unravelling the Role of Genetic Variation of Beneficial Arthropods in Agro-ecosystems. The grant will enable an ecological genetics research centre to be established that will investigate whether the dramatic decline observed in insect populations also contributes to loss of genetic diversity. The project will also examine how the interaction between the habitat needs of the insects and the use of natural land areas influences the genetic diversity of the insect populations. The research will investigate whether less genetic diversity threatens the biological functions of species and renders these populations especially vulnerable to environmental changes and outbreaks of disease.

“Insects are extremely important in both natural and cultivated ecosystems and we are apparently seeing large declines in their populations. However, we know little about how this affects genetic diversity, the loss of which can also accelerate the loss of species diversity, which is one of the important ecosystem services that insects provide such as pollination and natural pest control. Understanding how we can maintain genetic diversity in natural populations is therefore important. Our research, which will use major genome analysis, will examine the interaction between animal biology and the intensity of the use of their habitats and how this affects the maintenance of healthy and diverse populations,” says Trine Bilde, who is receiving DKK 59.1 million for her research.

Signe Normand, Professor, Department of Biology, Aarhus University will lead the second center called SustainScapes – Sustainable Solutions for Maintenance of Biodiversity and Production across Landscapes. The research will help us to understand how changes in land use and climate conditions have historically affected biodiversity across Denmark. Based on the new knowledge, the project will develop tools to predict how and in which land areas restoring ecosystems in relation to agricultural production will most strongly affect biodiversity in the future.

“SustainScapes will rethink how to use the Danish landscape and explore nature-based solutions for protecting biodiversity and bio-based production. We will provide new knowledge about where – and how quickly – we can expect biodiversity to be restored and use data observed from space to track the changes. The project will strive to deliver local, sustainable solutions that benefit biodiversity, the climate and production by linking local and global models that will place local choices in a globalized context. Action requires locally based knowledge. We want to make it easier for the general public and decision-makers to launch local initiatives for a sustainable future,” says Signe Normand, who is receiving DKK 60 million for her research, which is being carried out in collaboration with the Department of Agroecology of Aarhus University and many national and international partners.

Per Gundersen, Professor, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen will lead the third center called Silva Nova – Restoring Soil Biology and Soil Functions to Gain Multiple Benefits in New Forests. The research will focus on how to use afforestation as an instrument in combatting climate change by sequestering carbon in trees but also how to use the resulting forests as habitats for species that can help to strengthen biodiversity. The project will investigate whether inoculating former arable land with soil from old forests will make establishing new forests on agricultural land faster and more efficient. The hypothesis is that microorganisms that benefit tree growth are not present in agricultural land and that transplantation can establish the right microbiome to support and accelerate forest restoration.

“When we plant trees in a field, a forest eventually grows. However, soil processes, the microbiome and plant communities continue to resemble fallow land. Regenerating the soil to support forests may thus take centuries. Our project will explore the transition from field to forest and find methods to turbocharge this development to benefit biodiversity and the environment. In Denmark, we have a plan to double the forest area. This is a massive project that will change the landscape. This generous grant for research on afforestation will ensure that, if all goes well, society will reap additional benefits from the plan,” says Per Gundersen, who is receiving DKK 60 million for his research.

About the Novo Nordisk Foundation Challenge Programme

The Novo Nordisk Foundation Challenge Programme was established in 2014. Since then, the Foundation has awarded more than DKK 100 million every year for ambitious research projects that focus on global challenges based on annually selected research themes. The Foundation has just opened for applications for the 2021 Challenge Programme, focusing on how cross-disciplinary research can solve the challenges of tomorrow related to disease and food.

Further information

Sabina Askholm Larsen, Communications Partner, Novo Nordisk Foundation, +45 2367 3226, [email protected]

Trine Bilde, Professor, Department of Biology, Aarhus University, +45 6020 2702, [email protected]

Signe Normand, Professor, Department of Biology, Aarhus University, +45 8715 4345, [email protected]

Per Gundersen, Professor, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen, +45 6177 9388, [email protected]