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Information for Researchers No. 28 | 3 June 2013
Priority Programme “Flexibility Matters: Interplay between Trait Diversity and Ecological Dynamics Using Aquatic Communities as Model Systems (DynaTrait)” (SPP 1704)

The Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has announced the establishment of a new Priority Programme entitled “Flexibility Matters: Interplay between Trait Diversity and Ecological Dynamics Using Aquatic Communities as Model Systems (DynaTrait)” (SPP 1704). The programme will run for an initial period of three years and is extendable to six years.

Biodiversity is rapidly declining and the frequency and strength of environmental changes (e.g. climate and land-use change) is increasing. A diminished biodiversity may increase the sensitivity of ecological systems, such as individuals, populations, communities and food webs, to environmental changes, which may lead, in turn, to a further decline in biodiversity. The Priority Programme aims to improve our understanding of this important but severely understudied feedback loop by accounting for the biodiversity-related flexibility of ecological systems arising from, e.g., genetic, phenotypic, and species diversity, which enables them to adjust to altered conditions and thus influences their dynamics. The programme moves away from the classical static species-based approach to a functional trait-based approach, which also accounts for trade-offs among traits. It considers studies on the consequences of trait variation for the dynamic properties of complex ecological systems including their non-linear feedbacks on trait variation determining whether trait variation is maintained or not. The Priority Programme aspires an intensive, mutually stimulating interplay between experimental approaches at different scales, field measurements, and mathematical modelling.

The aim is to broaden our very limited quantitative knowledge and predictive power on how trait variation affects the type of ecological dynamics (e.g. static or oscillating) and responses to environmental changes. In particular, work should aim to quantify: how the potential to adjust to altered abiotic and biotic conditions increases with the phenotypic, genetic and species diversity of food webs, how such a potential for adjustments influences the type of dynamics of, e.g., producers and consumers, and their responses to environmental change, and how the altered dynamics in turn influence the maintenance of biodiversity and thus the potential to adjust to future perturbations.

All projects must contribute to the above mentioned aims, address consequences of trait variation for dynamics from a community ecology perspective and have to be firmly imbedded into a food web context, i.e. investigate mutual feed backs among different trophic levels or competitors. Projects should use plankton or microbial biofilms (or comparable systems) as empirical model systems. Generation times have to be sufficiently short to measure trait variations during many generations, and major trade-off(s) among traits have to be assessable. Projects may consider the source and costs of trait variation (e.g. phenotypic or evolution) as far as it is required to improve our knowledge on potential trade-offs, time scales, reversibility of responses and on the maximum extent of trait variation. The programme excludes sole studies on (1) biodiversity–invasion relationships, (2) traditional biodiversity–variability relationships (e.g. on the insurance or Portfolio effect), (3) the microevolution of one clone or species, (4) population genetics, (5) the mechanisms giving rise to trait variation (e.g. details in the genetics), (6) the maintenance of trait variation and the costs involved therein, (7) phenotypic plasticity, (8) spatial effects acting in systems largely driven by external inputs (e.g. restoration after mass extinctions), and (9) the sole development of mathematical or modelling techniques.

It is welcomed but not essential that projects are run by more than one PI and/or are part of a cluster, which is centred around, e.g., suitable model organisms, facilities, field sites or overarching conceptual themes. The combination of empirical and theoretical work is particularly encouraged, either within a single project, a cluster or in cooperation with an intended central modelling team, and should be outlined in the proposal. Empirical studies seeking complementation with suitable theoretical concepts, modelling and time series analysis by the central modelling team should discuss this in sufficient time with the coordinator to evaluate potential joint scientific interests. Participation in the Priority Programme offers specific scientific exchange and training activities and demands to follow some rules such as establishing thesis committees for Ph.D. students and promoting gender equality.

Proposals for the first three-year funding period can be submitted by 15 November 2013 (deadline) through the DFG’s electronic proposal processing system “elan”. In this system please select “Schwerpunktprogramm” and “SPP 1704” when submitting your proposal. All proposals must be written in English according to the DFG Proposal Preparation Instructions (DFG Form 54.01en). For the scientific review of proposals, DFG may invite the applicants to present their projects to the review panel at a symposium to be held in March 2014.

Further Information

The DFG’s electronic portal “elan” can be found at:

Proposal guidelines and preparation instructions are outlined in DFG forms 54.01en and 50.05en, which can be found on the DFG website at:

For further scientific information, please check

or contact the programme’s coordinator:

For questions related to the application or review process please contact: