SENSE (Structure and Ecological Niche in the Soil Environment) is a groundbreaking project to discover the processes affecting soil animal diversity and how soil biodiversity affects ecosystem stability and function. SENSE tackles the challenging enigma of soil animal diversity (exceptionally high diversity in an apparently much less diverse environment), studying the effect of soil structural complexity on community assembly processes. The resulting knowledge will allow the development of a new generation of food web models that takes into account the complex nature of aboveground–belowground linkages, and astonishing levels of belowground diversity. These models are fundamental to the study of ecosystem stability and function. This is a key topic in the framework of EU bioeconomy research and innovation: soil is under threat (e.g. compaction) and provides humans with key services that currently are at risk. This multidisciplinary project involves approaches that range from chemistry and physics to molecular and theoretical ecology. The knowledge it provides promotes an interdisciplinary approach to management and conservation strategy (e.g. protection of soil biodiversity through the preservation of soil structure). In fact, the project creates the conditions to bridge basic, foundational ecology and classical soil ecology, which traditionally has a more applied focus. SENSE will promote the formation of an international network of scientists that will contribute to the project through workshops, research visits, and direct involvement in the measurement of key variables and outreach programs. Thanks to this networking and its outputs, I will establish high profile research themed around the study of biodiversity. Thus, in the long term I will be able to create a leading, internationally recognised research group in the framework of on-going, worldwide research collaborations that are taking place among leading soil ecologists and biodiversity scientists.
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