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Cooperation and shared strategies for biodiversity research programmes in Europe

Final Report Summary - BIODIVERSA2 (Cooperation and shared strategies for biodiversity research programmes in Europe)

Executive Summary:
BiodivERsA2 is a network of organisations programming and funding research on biodiversity and ecosystem services across European countries and territories.

Biodiversity is the Earth’s living heritage and is essential for the delivery of ecosystem services. It is as much an environmental issue as an economic, food-security, energy-security and political one. With adequate support and a solid research basis, biodiversity and associated ecosystem services can become a toolbox for the resilience of human societies facing a changing, unsettled world. Biodiversity questions cross both boarders (e.g. alien invasive species) and disciplines (e.g. valuation of ecosystem services). They can thus be tackled more effectively by collaboration between multi-national teams. BiodivERsA aims at integrating national/local programmes and funds to achieve resource efficiency and synergy, and build up the European Research Area for biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Funded by the European Commission’s FP7, BiodivERsA2 gathered 21 organisations from 15 European countries, mainland and overseas. It provides the focus, money, and networking opportunities for research that helps understand the dynamics of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and explores innovative solutions for their conservation, and sustainable management and use.

Since 2008, BiodivERsA partners are regularly launching calls to support outstanding and multidisciplinary research relevant to society and policy. BiodivERsA partners also reinforce strategic mapping and programming of trans-national research, as well as stakeholder engagement and the dissemination of research results.

Mapping activities for a coordinated strategy
The analysis of national and international research strategies on biodiversity and ecosystem services, the development of a database referencing relevant programmes and projects, the mapping of the research landscape, and the liaison with main European and international initiatives have allowed for BiodivERsA2 partners to identify shared priorities and develop a strategy that is coordinated, coherent and relevant. Shared priorities were compiled into a common research agenda, allowing for a pluri-annual vision to support pan-European research on biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Funding research projects and stakeholder engagement
BiodivERsA2 regularly funded research through annual calls for proposals (i.e. 37M€ "in cash" contribution invested through 4 calls over 2010-2014). It funds medium-sized pan-European projects, promoting multidisciplinary research. In addition, projects are selected based on both their scientific excellence and societal/policy relevance. To support this approach, BiodivERsA2 promoted stakeholder engagement throughout the whole research development process, from co-design and implementation of programmes to dissemination. Various tools (handbook, workshops, …) help research teams to engage with relevant stakeholders and enhance the impact of their work.

Knowledge brokerage and dissemination
In addition to academic productions, funded projects generate a range of products, e.g. management plans, guidelines, new indicators, maps, etc. useful to local, national or European stakeholders and policy makers. Moreover, key results from BiodivERsA-funded research are disseminated to policy makers by means of policy briefs linking the new knowledge to major European policies.

Project Context and Objectives:
There is clear evidence that the current rates of extinction of biological species are dozens to hundreds of times the normal background rates, and that biological communities and ecological systems are deeply affected by human activities, through habitat loss and disturbance, changes in land use, introduction of invasive species and climate change. Several reviews recently stressed that biodiversity loss will reduce nature's ability to maintain ecological status and "ecosystem services" such as water filtration, nutrient cycling or pollination. Moreover, the review into the economics of biodiversity loss (TEEB report) found that global GDP could decline by several points by 2050 if ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss are not tackled. Thus, there is growing evidence that, in addition to cultural and ethical values, the diversity and abundance of species are crucial for a range of processes and services that affect humanity in many respects.

Biodiversity has become a major societal challenge, which is calling for scientific support to Policy and management decisions and for a coordinated strategy to address the challenge at a European level. In order to address this challenge, adequate financial resources must be allocated to biodiversity research under EU and national programmes. However, in addition to the volume of investment in research, efficient transnational cooperation and joint action are needed to integrate biodiversity science at the regional and international levels, which are often the relevant scales at which to address the issues at stake. Moreover, scientific support to European policies (including Community and member states) should rely on an open and coherently managed research framework, with coordinated priorities and programmes based on a continuously developed European research strategy.

By networking 21 key players in European biodiversity funding across 15 countries, BiodivERsA2 aimed at strengthening the European Research Area for biodiversity research, in particular through the promotion of a common strategy – elaborated as needed with other key players in the field - and through the organisation of regular joint funding activities for a better scientific integration of biodiversity research. It also aimed to reinforce external links, and has designed a renewed governance model. Ultimately, the goal is to establish a sustained mechanism through which national research funding on biodiversity and ecosystem services is coordinated, including priority research topics, linkages with infrastructure programmes and needs for assessments and policy development. This was to be done in close coordination with other initiatives, and taking into account national priorities and research agendas along with strategies developed by key stakeholders at European and international levels.

The achievement of such ambitious objectives could only be reached by building upon the first BiodivERsA cooperation (FP6, 2005-2010), which carried out extensive preparatory work and tested joint funding procedures in a large call for proposal (12 funded projects for a total of 14.2M€). However, the BiodivERsA 2008 joint call remained a stand-alone action, with limited impact over time and insufficiently integrated with other challenges in the field. A more comprehensive approach was thus needed for BiodivERsA2: the network built on its experience and on lessons learnt, but also aimed to develop an ambitious scheme to promote the strategic cooperation among funding organisations, from research planning to research funding in relation with other initiatives and developments. This ensured that joint programmes have maximum impact to promote the ERA on biodiversity. The main objectives of BiodiVERsA2 are divided as follows:
- Develop an efficient agenda-setting mechanism for joint activities (including joint calls), taking into account existing research strategies and agendas at international levels along with national and institutional priorities
- Instate a recurrent and well-identified funding opportunity for transnational biodiversity research, with annual joint calls
- Play an active role in processes and interfaces to inform policy and users
- Prepare the establishment of a sustainable platform for programming and funding trans-national biodiversity research

By fulfilling these objectives, BiodivERsA2 will strengthen the cooperation between national organisations that program and fund biodiversity research and will identify and develop shared biodiversity research strategies and important research topics. It will further develop a coherent vision of research planning and use within the European research area on biodiversity and ecosystem services. It will ultimately set up a sustainable platform to coordinate and support European biodiversity research.

Project Results:
BiodivERsA partners have achieved a great deal since the project’s start in November 2010. Building upon the experiences of the project’s first phase (FP6 ERA-Net from May 2005 to April 2010), the network is enlarged to new partner organisations and new countries (with a total of 15 countries now) and is pursuing its overall aim of moving towards a strategic and well-identified platform for recurrent transnational funding of biodiversity research in Europe.

Instate a recurrent and well-identified funding opportunity for transnational biodiversity research

In order to achieve this goal, partners have worked to demonstrate the ability of the network to launch annual, substantial calls for transnational research projects. This is now a solid success, with the launch of the BiodivERsA 2010-2011 joint call on “biodiversity and ecosystem services, and their valuation” in November 2010 (7 projects funded for a total of 9.5M €), the BiodivERsA 2011-2012 joint call on “biodiversity dynamics: developing scenarios, identifying tipping points and improving resilience” launched in November 2011 (9 projects funded for a total of 8.5 M €) and a third joint call in November 2012 on “invasive species and biological invasions” (9 projects for a total amount of 8 M €). It should be stressed that the 2010-2011 joint call was initially developed in between the two phases of European funding, which is a strong testimony of the BiodivERsA partners’ commitment to the network and their will to cooperate and achieve significant results.
In 2013, following on-going discussions between the two initiatives, the FACCE-JPI and BiodivERsA partners developed an innovative cooperation at the crossroads of each network’s interests, resulting in the launch of a fourth joint call in November 2013. The call targeted proposals aiming to “improve synergies and reduce trade-offs between food supply, biodiversity and ecosystem services” and allowed selecting 10 top-ranked research projects for a total funding over 10 million Euros. With this fourth BiodivERsA2 call (fifth call for BiodivERsA altogether), the pan-European projects funded by BiodivERsA represent a 102 M € investment, including 51 M € "in cash" contribution.

Developing an efficient agenda-setting mechanism for joint activities

To develop a solid ground for joint funding activities, BiodivERsA partners have worked to develop a common agenda for joint calls, giving a multi-annual view of the network’s priorities and funding strategy to support pan-European biodiversity research. This agenda is the result of a transparent mechanism for the identification BiodivERsA priorities adopted in February 2011: it accounts for partner’s individual priorities along with strategies, agendas or priorities set by other key players in the field of biodiversity research at the national, European and international levels. To this end, BiodivERsA develops horizon scanning exercises and gap analyses: in particular, it has prepared a report synthesising the priorities of national funding agencies, and a second one providing a comprehensive view of international priorities identified for biodiversity research by a range of European and international bodies. The BiodivERsA database, which covers partners’ funding programmes, projects and experts, is also crucial tool in this context, which encompasses over 6500 projects funded in European countries. It has been updated and published in a renewed version, together with two booklets analysing the trends of biodiversity research funding in Europe as well as the types of research funded.

Based on this mapping activity, BiodivERsA published its first common agenda for joint calls in June 2011, which is updated yearly. This notably led partners to the choice of the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 call topics through a transparent process. This process was also used for the choice of the 2013-2014 call topic, which was initially developed and suggested by several BiodivERsA2 partners in a concerted process with several FACCE-JPI partners.

Play an active role in processes and interfaces to inform policy and users

The coupling of a common strategic agenda and its implementation through regular joint calls is at the core of the network’s strategy to develop a strategic funding platform. In addition, the societal challenges behind our relationship with biodiversity require promoting science-society interfacing. This is done at all stages of the research process going on in BiodivERsA:
- First, the research needs are identified according to the current hot topics recognized as such by the scientific world, but also according to the main needs of stakeholders, including policy makers, at the moment. This leads to write call texts that attract and mobilize the relevant scientific experts and stakeholders.
- Secondly, the research projects are selected against criteria of scientific excellence, but also in terms of societal impact. This includes the evaluation of the proposed research’s policy relevance and of the quality of stakeholder integration as in previous calls, but now with improved criteria.
- Thirdly, BiodivERsA also actively supports researchers building their projects with the provision of a Stakeholder engagement handbook, a hands-on guide to plan, implement and get the most out of the inclusion of stakeholders in their research projects. These guidelines work hand-in-hand with the societal impact criteria used in call evaluations and will help researchers in achieving successful stakeholder engagement and promoting policy relevance in their research projects.
- Fourthly, BiodivERsA has engaged in professional knowledge brokerage activities by producing and disseminating policy briefs based on the findings of projects funded in its previous calls. This activity, in solid progress, allows for a better dissemination and use of the projects outputs among the relevant stakeholders and policy makers.

Overall, BiodivERsA is committed to providing a pan-European funding source, which calls for a steady yet well-thought enlargement and visibility of the network. In particular, the partners worked to provide BiodivERsA with a strong and easily identifiable graphic identity in the first part of the project, with a continued update of the web site (ca. 30,000 different visitors per year), as well as clear-cut messages and an active participation to international events dealing with biodiversity: for instance, BiodivERsA has organised a symposium part of the ECCB in September 2012 and has participated in a joint event organised by the European Parliament Intergroup on "Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development", with DG Research and Innovation and key players of the ERA on biodiversity at the European Parliament in September 2013. BiodivERsA representatives also took part in major events discussing roles and opportunities for ERA-Nets in the changing landscape, defending the links needed to ensure the coherence of biodiversity and ecosystem services research in H2020.

Potential Impact:
At the heart of the ERA concept is the coordination of national research programmes, allowing to integrate research at the European scale, promote synergies between research teams and institutions as well as to avoid wasteful overlaps in research carried out at a national level. BiodivERsA partners, through their active cooperation and through the significant outputs of the project, demonstrate that they have a strong impact on such aspects for research on biodiversity and associated ecosystem services.

A major impact of the network is that it now offers a recurrent, significant funding source to integrate biodiversity research programmes across countries in Europe. With the four joint calls launched since the beginning of the of the BiodivERsA2 project, a total funding amount of 37 million euro ("in cash" contribution) has been raised for pan European biodiversity research, which corresponds to a leverage effect of 18.5 (i.e. 1€ funding from EC for coordination, strategic and networking activities results in 18.5€ research funding from national agencies).
Through its activity, BiodivERsA promotes excellent scientific research (e.g. two-thirds of the BiodivERsA projects that started in early 2009 have already published in the high profile scientific journals Nature, Science or PNAS). Addressing questions at a trans-boundary level is highly relevant to many research questions in the field, and gathering specific expertise from scientific teams from country to country allows the constitution of high-quality and efficient research consortia. BiodivERsA has already impacted the biodiversity research field at European level by providing a funding source for medium-sized projects (typically 5 to 7 partners), which are recognized by researchers for favouring excellent and effective interdisciplinarity and a high quality integration of natural and social sciences in research results (e.g. over 75% of proposals in the 2010-11 call included social scientists).

Another major impact is the delivery of new knowledge useful for society. Biodiversity is a research field of high relevance for human societies, which are in constant interaction with it and benefit from numerous services it provides. However, this provision of services, linked to the state of biodiversity and ecosystem services, is fragile under growing anthropological pressure. BiodivERsA partners are thus committed to funding highly societal-relevant research, in addition to its scientific excellence. This is clearly demonstrated by the topics selected for the four BiodivERsA calls launched since 2010. Also upstream of its research-funding activities, BiodivERsA is supporting researchers looking to engage with stakeholders before, during and after their research projects. To this end, the network has developed and published the BiodivERsA Stakeholder Engagement Handbook, which is a non-academic practical guide for researchers planning and carrying out research projects. It is designed to assist research teams in identifying relevant stakeholders to engage with in order to enhance the impact of their work. The Handbook draws upon exiting literature and presents case studies that provide clear, simple guidance, which considers ‘why’, ‘who’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ to engage. Through such a publication, BiodivERsA partners further pave the way to knowledge provision and illuminate solutions for tackling biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation at the European level. Although it was only recently published, this Handbook promises to deliver a strong impact already as it was very enthusiastically received by the biodiversity and ecosystem researchers it was presented to and BiodivERsA has already received some very positive feedback from other researchers beyond its own research field.

Also, projects funded by BiodivERsA are now providing significant societal outputs, such as the RACE project that has built the foundation for a European management plan to face Chytridiomycosis, an emerging fungal pathogen threatening amphibians in Europe ; and the URBES project had a key role in promoting Nature-based solutions in European cities. In parallel, the knowledge brokerage activities developed to disseminate the main results of BiodivERsA projects are effectively promoting the impact of funded research, and six policy briefs have already been published. These policy briefs are part of a series of briefings produced by BiodivERsA aiming to inform policy makers on key results of selected BiodivERsA funded projects, and to provide them with specific recommendations. They also illustrate the high pertinence of BiodivERsA’s work, and of the research it funds across Europe, producing for example responses to governance challenges related to the implementation of Natura 2000 or expliciting a “win-win” between biodiversity-conservation and climate-change-combat (see the "Nitrogen pollution and climate change reduce carbon storage and biodiversity of peatlands" policy brief).

BiodivERsA is now in a maturity phase and liaises continuously with other key bodies of the ERA, in particular other ERA-Nets (e.g. through the KBBE project PLATFORM) and JPIs, EPBRS, ALCUENET, as with key international players like the Belmont Forum. The quality of the interactions is clearly player-dependent, but BiodivERsA will go on developing such interactions since biodiversity is at the cross-roads of many sectors, and promoting research on biodiversity requires to engage a range of other actors. BiodivERsA partners are aiming to pursue the establishment of a strategic body able to program and fundi innovative biodiversity and ecosystem research at European level. An encouraging step towards this aim is the collaboration on research mapping exercises with the JPI FACCE Theme 3 and subsequent 2013-2014 joint call that was launched in common with BiodivERsA FACCE-JPI partners, demonstrating the network’s capacity to articulate itself with key bodies of the ERA in a perspective of shared interests.

The second phase of BiodivERsA has been a great success, and BiodivERsA2 has been selected as a success story by the European Commission. The activities on the future of the cooperation have led to a proposal for a BiodivERsA3 project in the form of a COFUND ERA-Net under H2020. Beyond the enthusiastic will of all BiodivERsA2 partners to pursue cooperation after the BiodivERsA2 project, the consortium will include new partners from European mainland (3 additional countries) and overseas territories, looking to pursue and enhance BiodivERsA activities. This will further reinforce the promotion of pan-European research on biodiversity and ecosystem service and the alignment of national research programmes, while developing links with other initiatives and sectors.

List of Websites:
Website: http://www.biodiversa.org/
Project Coordinator and CEO: Xavier Le Roux (xavierleroux@hotmail.fr)