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Valuing ecosystems - Marie Curie grant for Rosaleen March

Ecologist Rosaleen March from the Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML) will carry on her research on functional biodiversity: a measure to assign value to ecosystems. Following her previous Marie Curie co-fund, she now receives a full Marie Curie fellowship. March: ‘We need to know how losing biodiversity impacts ecosystem functioning.’

Traits and tasks

March explains functional diversity is the component of biodiversity that is concerned with what organisms do, rather than with their taxonomic identity. It is not about how many individual species there are, but how many different traits and tasks the organisms have: is a plant edible? Is an animal a predator or a prey? During her fellowship, March will use remote sensing to gain more insight in how functional diversity changes over time. She will only focus on plants.

At your service

‘Functional diversity links biodiversity with the ecosystem services on which people depend,’ tells March. ‘These are the services that can come only from natural environments and contribute to human well-being and economic value. Think about capturing carbon, water filtration and ecological stability to buffer the effects of environmental change or abrupt disturbances. Despite its importance, we know little about how functional diversity change over time or what drives it distribution.’

Remote sensing

With remote sensing, you acquire information about an object without making physical contact with that object. In contrast to on-site observation, it uses for example satellite- or aircraft based sensor technologies to investigate oceans, forests or the atmosphere. March will use state-of-the-art remote sensing and spatial analysis techniques, both ground-based and space-borne, to get more insight in the functioning of ecosystems.

Recent advances in remote sensing lead for example to more widespread coverage in high spectral resolution imagery (spectroscopy) and structural information. This  provides new opportunities for more efficient and effective ways to assess and monitor functional diversity. It is especially useful in regions that cannot be realistically sampled on the ground. Obtaining functional trait data by means of field sampling can be really time consuming and costly at large spatial scales.

Change and disturbance

First, March wants to determine how plant traits and functional diversity fluctuate throughout their growing season on a local scale. Next, she will zoom out and map functional diversity on a landscape scale to determine its environmental drivers.  March’s final goal is to determine how functional diversity varies long-term and responds to changes and disturbances. ‘With biodiversity being lost at an unprecedented rate, we need to know how this impacts ecosystem functioning and services – us - before the damage is irreversible.’

The Marie Skolodowska Curie actions (MSCA) are an initiative of the European Commission. The MSCA provides scholarships to make it more attractive for researchers to work in Europe. The scholarships are suitable for researchers who want to work abroad. Individual researchers, researchers at knowledge institutions or companies can apply for a scholarship. Organisations and companies that want to hire a researcher from abroad can also apply for a scholarship. An amount of € 5.6 billion has been made available for the period 2013-2020.

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