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Information for Researchers No. 77 | 3. November 2017
Priority Programme “EarthShape: Earth Surface Shaping by Biota” (SPP 1803)

In 2014, the Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) established the Priority Programme “EarthShape: Earth Surface Shaping by Biota” (SPP 1803). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the second three-year funding period.

A common geoscience paradigm holds that the Earth’s surface is shaped mainly by climate (eroding soil) and tectonics (building mountains). The EarthShape project challenges this paradigm to explore in one of the most spectacular climate and vegetation gradients (the Chilean coastal range) how biologic processes form soil, influence topography, and thereby shape the Earth’s surface and modulate the impact of climate change.

EarthShape invites scientists to work on this common problem of human relevance. The new and innovative aspect of this Priority Programme is the integration of different bio- and geoscience communities (geosciences, ecology, soil sciences, hydrology, microbiology, or geography) that work on different temporal and spatial scales. Emphasis is placed on non-anthropogenic and non-glacial geomorphic processes.

Continuation proposals from existing investigators are welcome. In addition, disciplines that have not been active in the first funding period are encouraged to join, such as from the fields of hydrology, reactive transport, faunal ecology, and tectonics. Also encouraged are new studies of the biosphere, geophysics, and critical zone processes of the deeper subsurface.

Individual research projects should contribute to at least one of the following five scientific goals, to which an application should explicitly refer:

  • Cluster 1: Micro-biota as the “weathering engine”. Investigations in this cluster involve quantifying different mechanisms of biogenic weathering. Proposals in this cluster should quantify the biological organism network whereby plants, fungi, and bacteria interact in the production of soils.
  • Cluster 2: Bio-mediated redistribution of material within the weathering zone. Investigations in this cluster should study soil catenas along hillslope profiles to investigate the movement of dissolved, mineral, and organic materials along the transport trajectory in different Chilean vegetation zones.
  • Cluster 3: Biotic modulation of erosion and sediment routing at the catchment-scale. Proposals in this cluster should explore the effects of biota on solute and sediment transport from hillslopes to the channel network, and the change of these effects along the vegetation gradient.
  • Cluster 4: Depositional legacy of coupled biogenic and Earth surface systems. Studies in this cluster will use proxy data from depositional environments (lakes, offshore sediment) to explore how sediment and solute supply and deposition has changed in the short-term (annual to decadal) and long-term (millennial to glacial/interglacial) past.
  • Cluster 5: Bridging time scales with coupled system modelling. The aim is to integrate the previous four research clusters and bridge between time scales. Numerical modelling could include expertise in: landscape evolution, soil erosion, surface and near-surface hydrology, dynamic vegetation, eco-hydrology, and geochemistry and should be calibrated with present-day data.

Study Area: EarthShape research shall be conducted in all four of the selected natural reserves in the Chilean Coastal Range that encompass a spectacular vegetation gradient and is controlled by climate ranging from arid to humid temperate (see project website for study area locations, www.earthshape.net). Exceptions are only allowed if the proposal refines the climate and vegetation gradient present in the previous four primary EarthShape locations, and clearly states how studies at new sites are connected to the previous sites. Contributions to existing field infrastructure and well-characterised sample suites are welcome.

Paired/Linked Investigations: Submitted proposals should include at least two principal investigators from different disciplines (e.g., biologist and geoscientist; soil scientist and geoscientist; biologist and hydrologist). Proposals can be submitted in one of the following ways: (1) paired (one proposal with multiple investigators), and (2) separately with very clear cross-links to each other. Proposals without a pairing can be submitted if the proposal clearly justifies why the investigated process could not be explored in a paired proposal (e.g. if the proposed work is on a very different temporal or spatial scale from other projects). Participants should also contact new or existing Chilean collaborators in the design of their study and include them within their projects. A list of current collaborators is available on the project website.

Documentation of fit into the programme and outreach in Chile: Submitted proposals should include a subsection titled “Fit within the EarthShape Programme and Outreach” at the start of the “Objectives and Work Plan” part of the proposal required by DFG proposal submission guidelines. In this “Fit within the EarthShape Programme and Outreach” subsection it should be clearly stated how the processes investigated contribute towards linking biologic and geoscience processes, and how the proposed work meets, or is exempt from, the pairing recommendation described above. Furthermore, proposals are encouraged to make an effort towards outreach activities for local communities in Chile. Proposals shall include a letter of commitment by collaborating Chilean partners, confirming their involvement in the project, their contribution, and their expectation of benefit sharing with the German principal investigators.

All proposals are required to include travel funds for the principal investigators and students to attend a kick off meeting in Chile in March 2019. Budgeted funds for this meeting should include (per person) roundtrip airfare to Santiago, €600 for five days lodging and meeting registration, plus food and ground transportation costs within Chile. Participants should also budget for annual workshop meetings in Germany in 2020 and 2021. Per person recommended costs for this are €250 for lodging, €150 for registration, €150 for transportation. Attendance at additional professional conferences should be budgeted at not more than €1,500/year/person, and all doctoral student positions should be funded at 75 percent TV-E13. Postdoctoral support is possible, if sufficiently justified, and total project costs are reasonable. If field work is required for the project the daily per person lodging costs should not exceed €60 for hotel accommodation, €15 for camping.

Please send the project coordination by 15 December 2017, a brief outline of: a) the research question you will be addressing; b) the techniques you will be applying; c) your partner name, institution, or whether you seek partners; d) whether you need equipment/activities that are costly and that multiple projects can use (for the coordination proposal). Send this information to earthshape@geo.uni-tuebingen.de. This information will be distributed to all potential applicants before the submission deadline.

Proposals must be written in English and submitted to the DFG by 12 February 2018. The anticipated start date of projects should be 1 January 2019. Please note that proposals can only be submitted via elan, the DFG’s electronic proposal processing system. Please include a title page with your name, your address, and the title of your project in your application. If you would like to submit a proposal for a new project within the existing Priority Programme, please go to Proposal Submission – New Project – Priority Programmes and select “SPP 1803” from the current list of calls. Previous applicants can submit a proposal for the renewal of an existing project under Proposal Submission – Proposal Overview/Renewal Proposal.

Applicants must be registered in elan prior to submitting a proposal to the DFG. If you have not yet registered, please note that you must do so by 29 January 2018 to submit a proposal under this call; registration requests received after this time cannot be considered. You will normally receive confirmation of your registration by the next working day. Note that you will be asked to select the appropriate Priority Programme call during both the registration and the proposal process.

In preparing your proposal, please review the programme guidelines (form 50.05, section B) and follow the proposal preparation instructions (form 54.01). These forms can either be downloaded from our website or accessed through the elan portal. Please also refer to the guidelines for submitting proposals which are published at the website of the Priority Programme. In addition to submitting your proposal to the DFG, please send an electronic version (pdf format) to the Priority Programme office. Researchers considering to submit proposals should contact the coordinator prior to submission to ascertain that proposals fit the scientific scope of the programme.

Further Information

More information on the Priority Programme is available under:

The elan system can be accessed at:

DFG forms 50.05 and 54.01 can be downloaded at:

For further scientific information, please contact the Priority Program’s co-coordinators:

Priority Programme office:

Questions on the DFG proposal process can be directed to:

Programme contact:

Administrative contact:


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