MacroSystems Biology and Early NEON Science

What do a fungal disease, lake sediments, and weather radar have in common?

They are all components of research projects funded by the NSF Macrosystems Biology and Early NEON Science Program (MSB). (You can find a list of active awards here.)

Last week, the NSF headquarters served as the gathering place for a meeting of Principal Investigators (PIs) and other researchers working on MSB projects from across the country. We wanted to share with you a little bit more about this unique program in the NSF BIO portfolio and some of the outcomes of the meeting.

Dr. Olds and Dr. Waring are standing in a meeting room in front of a wall with Dr. Warings scientific poster hanging on it. There are other posters in the background.

The NSF’s Assistant Director for Biological Sciences, Dr. Jim Olds, speaks with MacroSystems Biology researcher Dr. Kristen Waring.

About the Program

Originally just called “Macrosystems Biology,” the Macrosystems Biology and Early NEON Science program is an NSF BIO funding competition that made its first round of awards in FY 2011. The next proposal due date is coming up later this month (NSF 16-521). The purpose of the program is to support “proposals that will develop new conceptual frameworks, empirical studies, and modeling that are applicable for studying the biosphere at regional to continental scales and developing the ability to forecast future change.”

As stated in the introduction to the program solicitation:

“The biosphere has changed more in the past 50 years than during any time in human history. Climate change, land use change, and the introduction of invasive species collectively affect living systems by altering the fundamental relationships between life and the non-living environment that sustains it. Many of the changes challenge our understanding of how the biosphere works – how the ecological systems on which we depend will respond to changes in climate, land use, biodiversity, and a host of related environmental factors. Our current understanding of the biosphere is largely based on knowledge derived either from small plot research or from satellite-scale remote sensing. However, the basic scientific knowledge needed to understand the biosphere at regional to continental and annual to decadal scales, to quantify the strong and weak forces regulating the biosphere, and to predict the consequences of climate and land use change and invasive species on living systems is difficult to extrapolate from studies conducted at local or global scales.”

As the MSB program has taken off, NSF BIO has also been supporting the development, construction, and operation of NEON, the National Ecological Observatory Network. Now managed by Battelle, and with construction anticipated to conclude in 2018, NEON is a nation-wide network of sensors, sampling, and other scientific resources. The observatory network is designed to enable the research community to ask and address their own questions on a regional to continental scale around the environmental challenges identified as relevant to understanding the effects of climate change, land-use change and invasive species patterns on the biosphere. NEON will provide the data needed to vastly expand our knowledge of regional and continental scale ecology; when complete, standardized data from 81 field sites placed across the entire U.S. (incl. Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico) will be freely available via an online data portal. Some data products are already available to the research community.

The research challenges of Macrosystems Biology go hand-in-hand with the opportunities and capacities generated by NEON infrastructure and data products. And thus, the MSB program has grown to explicitly encourage, but not exclusively require, research capitalizing on NEON resources.

Meeting Synopsis

The exciting outcomes and future plans of the MSB projects were on display at a Principal Investigators (PI) community meeting held over two days at NSF headquarters. This meeting was organized by the PIs and supported by the NSF BIO Division of Biological Infrastructure (home of NEON program management) and Division of Emerging Frontiers (home of the MSB program).

The meeting brought together representatives from most current MSB projects. While project leaders were in abundance, the meeting also placed a special emphasis on participation by early career researchers: faculty, post-docs, and graduate students.

Photo of a meeting room with scientific posters hanging on the walls. About a dozen researchers are clustered around the posters talking with one another about their research.

The morning poster session allowed investigators to showcase their exciting outcomes and future plans for research.

The meeting kicked off on Thursday, September 29, with back-to-back poster sessions which provided time for all attendees to hear from other project representatives about their latest work. In the first round, the PIs presented their research. In the second round, the students and post-docs took the lead. The posters showcased investigators’ progress-to-date and future plans for MSB and early NEON science projects and featured outcomes from projects such as:

  • Developing models based on weather, climate, and population dynamics to predict the spread of White Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease decimating North American bats.
  • Pulling the signals of flying birds from the “noise” in weather radar network data, and generating a new observational tool for understanding migrations on a large scale.
  • Testing the limits of the biosphere components of major climate models over millennia scales, then fusing modern and paleo-ecology data, such as that found in tree rings and pollen preserved beneath lake beds, to create more robust representations.
  • Piloting a training approach for graduate students to develop first-hand experience in big-scale science through intensive fellowships that focus on team-science skills, data skills (access, sharing, wrangling and management) and synthesis projects that benefit a broad research community.
Dr. Cotton and a colleague stand in front of a scientific poster titled Mice-o-scapes: Using isotopes to understand the effect of climate and landscape change on small mammal ecology over the past 100 years.

Principal Investigator Dr. Jennifer Cotton describes her work on isotopic analysis during the poster session.

In addition to the project-specific presentations, on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning the attendees engaged in discussions about some major themes that cut across and unite the field of Macrosystems Biology, for example:

  • Putting theory developed at small scales to the test at much larger scales.
  • Developing mathematical models of complex biological processes over large spatial and temporal scales.
  • Addressing the challenges of interdisciplinary teamwork and data management, and training the next generation of researchers to do so effectively.
  • Working to integrate big data, theory, models, and experiments to make useful predictions (useful to scientists, resource managers, and the public).
A group of eight researchers, 5 men and 3 women, sit in chairs arranged in a circle in front of a wall displaying 5 scientific posters.

Small group discussions allowed the principal investigators to share and compare experiences working on large-scale projects.

To learn more about this program visit the NSF Macrosystems Biology and Early NEON Science program summary page.

And if you missed it, we shared some of the researchers’ work on BIO’s Twitter account with the hashtags #MSB and #NEON:

 

Posted in Programs

Developing a National Research Infrastructure for Neuroscience (NeuroNex)

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced via a Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 16-047) its intention to foster the development of a national research infrastructure for neuroscience through a phased approach. The goal is to support collaborative and team science for achieving a comprehensive understanding of the brain.

Image of skull and brain model with text overlay including the name of the solicitation

As part of this effort, the NSF has created a new funding opportunity—Developing a National Research Infrastructure for Neuroscience (NeuroNex). This is a cross-directorate initiative of the Directorates for Biological Sciences (BIO), Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS), Engineering (ENG), and Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE).

The solicitation (NSF 16-569) calls for two types of project proposals:

(1) Neurotechnology Hubs: Projects that foster development and dissemination/deployment of innovative research resources and instrumentation, neuro-technologies, and behavioral paradigms that can be applied across the phylogenetic spectrum, while providing greater access to existing resources where possible and serving broad communities within the brain sciences; and

(2) Theory Teams:  Projects that foster theoretical approaches with the potential to reveal the neural underpinnings of behavior and cognition across organizational levels, scales of analysis, and/or a range of species.

Please consult the solicitation (NSF 16-569) for additional details about this funding opportunity. Contact information for cognizant program officers can be found on the program summary page and in the solicitation.

NeuroNex Informational Webinar: Tuesday, July 19, 2016, 1:00-3:00 PM EDT
The Webinar discussed the scope of the funding activity, pertinent review criteria, general guidelines for project proposals to this activity, and post-award conditions for cooperative agreements. Watch the webinar recording HERE.

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IDBR: Information and Guidance for Providing Feedback

June 8, 2016

In BIO’s fiscal year 2017 (FY17) budget request, plans were included regarding the evaluation of smaller Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI) programs, such as the Instrument Development for Biological Research (IDBR) program, with the goal of informing the FY18 budget request. The BIO Directorate is currently performing an internal evaluation of DBI research resource programs, including IDBR. This internal evaluation is an opportunity to assess the important role of IDBR in supporting instrumentation and technology needs across a broad range of biological sciences.

The evaluation will be performed by an internal working group, comprising representatives from each of BIO’s divisions and NSF’s Office of Evaluation and Assessment. The internal evaluation will be completed in November, 2016; therefore, IDBR will not be accepting new project proposals in response to the current solicitation (NSF 13-561) in 2016.

The IDBR program welcomes helpful feedback from all stakeholders regarding the role of IDBR in supporting instrumentation and technology needs. In particular, the IDBR program welcomes responses to the following questions:

  • Is the breadth of instrumentation innovation currently supported by IDBR appropriate to address the biological sciences research community needs?  If there are gaps in instrumentation support, please provide examples.
  • How have innovations in instrumentation supported by the IDBR program impacted research outcomes in the community and catalyzed instrumentation technology innovation?
  • How can the program best enable dissemination and access to prototype instrumentation?
  • What other issues or metrics related to the IDBR program affect you as a stakeholder; e.g., access to instrumentation, dissemination of prototypes or instrumentation blueprints, societal benefits (such as environmental impacts, education/workforce development, and economic benefits), etc.?

Responses to these questions should be directed to dbi-idbr@nsf.gov. Thank you!

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Announcement: CSBR Update

May 25, 2016

The National Science Foundation’s Assistant Director for the Directorate for Biological Sciences, Dr. Jim Olds, has shared an announcement regarding the Collections in Support of Biological Research (CSBR) program. The announcement can be found on the Directorate for Biological Sciences home page under “Special Announcements.”

 

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ADBC Projects: Budget Justification and Review

Are you preparing a project proposal for the Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (ADBC) program? Here we provide some information regarding ADBC budget justifications & decisions.

As you can see from the graph below, budget requests that have come in to the ADBC program have ranged from as small as $5,626 to as large as $3,907,600.  While there is no particular dollar amount that characterizes a successful ADBC project proposal, the ADBC Program expects proposals to put forth a well-justified and well-reasoned budget request to be competitive for funding.

Graph showing ADBC Proposal Budget Requests from 2011 to 2015

The ADBC program and reviewers recognize that the digitization of different types of information will have different costs. Here are some factors considered by the ADBC Program when reviewing a budget request for an ADBC proposal:

  • Does the PI make a well-reasoned argument for the cost of digitization based on the specimen preservation method (e.g., herbarium sheets, insect trays, fluid preserved specimens)?
  • What aspect of digitization is the PI proposing; in other words, will the project involve 2D or 3D imaging of specimens, label capture, digitization of field notes and other ancillary data, or georeferencing? This information will aid in the justification of the budget amount.
  • There is also the expectation that new projects will build upon existing efficiencies or improve upon methods or workflows that have already been developed by others. For example, does the proposed project leveraged resources from existing Thematic Collection Networks (TCNs) or incorporated lessons learned from similar efforts? Have others digitized this particular organism? If so, will those existing data be leveraged for the proposed project?

If you found this information useful, stay tuned to DBInfo for more blog posts about DBI programs and helpful tips about proposal preparation.

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CSBR: Information and Guidance for Providing Feedback

April 4, 2016 [Updated April 27 & June 8, 2016]

In March, 2016, it was announced that the Collections in Support of Biological Research (CSBR) program within the Directorate for Biological Sciences’ (BIO) Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI) will not be accepting new project proposals in 2016. Proposals submitted by the September, 2015, CSBR solicitation deadline and recommended for funding will be funded and supported for the duration of the award along with continuing increments for prior awards. The CSBR program has been placed on a biennial competition schedule as of 2017 and new project proposals will be considered in the next cycle. Additional guidance regarding potential opportunities for support for emergency circumstances and priorities for support will be provided by October 1, 2016 in the form of a Dear Colleague Letter and an update on the CSBR web page.

In BIO’s fiscal year 2017 (FY17) budget request, plans were included regarding the evaluation of smaller DBI programs, such as CSBR, with the goal of informing the FY18 budget request. The BIO Directorate is currently performing an internal evaluation of DBI research resource programs, including CSBR, which will be completed in November, 2016. This internal evaluation is an opportunity to assess the important role of CSBR in the context of the Postdoctoral Collections Fellowship program and the Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections program, which includes iDigBio. The evaluation will be performed by an internal working group, comprising representatives from each of BIO’s divisions and NSF’s Office of Evaluation and Assessment.

The biological collections and research communities have provided very helpful feedback on the CSBR program, and this input will be analyzed and used to assess program needs.

The CSBR program continues to welcome community response to the following questions:

  • Is the scope of collection support provided by CSBR adequate and appropriate to address the research and education community needs? If there are gaps, what are these and how should they be addressed?
  • What is known about how the collections-related programs (CSBR, ADBC, and the Collections track of PRFB) leverage one another (anecdotal evidence is welcome!)?
  • What are the impacts of the CSBR program that are innovative and/or transformative in understanding unanswered questions in biology or that significantly impact education or outreach?
  • Are there other issues or metrics that should be considered during evaluation of the CSBR program; e.g., encouraging data publications that cite specimens, societal benefits (such as environmental impacts, education/workforce development, and economic benefits), etc.?

Responses to these questions should be directed to DBICSBR@nsf.gov.  We have already received feedback from many of you, which will be incorporated into the evaluation, and those who have already commented should feel free to submit additional information in response to the questions above.  Thank you for your interest and support!

April 27, 2016: Thank you for your feedback. At this time, comments will no longer be registered on the blog. Please direct future comments to the email address provided above. Please see our blog policy regarding moderation of blog comments.

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What is Biological Infrastructure?

Biological infrastructure, put plainly, is the infrastructure that supports biology. As such, biological infrastructure encompasses many different things. In terms of resources for research, it can include biological informatics, cyberinfrastructure, museum collections, living stock collections, field stations, marine labs, and instrumentation, all of which act to support and advance biological research. But biological infrastructure also relates to the human resources that make up the scientific workforce in the field of biology. The Division of Biological Infrastructure supports the development of this workforce by supporting fellowships for postdoctoral research, research experiences for undergraduates, and research coordination networks in undergraduate biology education. Finally, biological infrastructure also includes biology centers and other mid- to large- scale infrastructure, existing either physically, virtually, or both, that address a particular scientific and educational mission and/or are designed to meet a particular community need in the biological sciences.

To learn more about the Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI) visit our About page and explore the Directorate for Biological Sciences’ interactive organizational chart.

BIO organizational chart

 

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