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Information for Researchers No. 45 | 16 July 2020
Priority Programme “Systems Ecology of Soils – Energy Discharge Modulated by Microbiome and Boundary Conditions (SoilSystems)” (SPP 2322)

The Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) established the Priority Programme “Systems Ecology of Soils – Energy Discharge Modulated by Microbiome and Boundary Conditions (SoilSystems)” (SPP 2322). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the first three-year funding period.

The key concept of this Priority Programme is that soil systems, their biodiversity and ecosystem services are determined by energy and matter fluxes stored in form of SOM (soil organic matter), bio- and necromass, which are subject to thermodynamic principles. The Priority Programme aims to integrate thermodynamic descriptions into the processes of soil organic carbon turnover in order to gain a systemic view on energy and matter fluxes and their relations to biota, non-living soil components, and environmental properties as boundary conditions. This will enable improved assessment and prediction of dynamic biogeochemical processes, boundary constraints and performance limits, also by taking advantage of modelling approaches describing the energy-driven soil systems in simpler terms.

The premise of the Priority Programme is that soil ecosystem structure, function, and stability are controlled by energy dissipation and that the flux of matter and energy through SOM is modulated by the microbiome leading to the main hypotheses:

A: The microbiome drives and modulates energy dissipation and matter turnover along various biological “energy use channels”. The microbial carbon turnover and sequestration is part of the energy-use-channel and the dominant “contributor” to SOM via carbon use and recycling, shifting microbial necromass to stabilised SOM.

B: Energy and matter input, discharge, and consumption in the soil system affect biological complexity, i.e. the structural and functional diversity, trophic networks and organisation of the soil microbiome (including microbial grazers).

C: The boundary conditions and mineral matrix (microhabitat structure) shape soil energy and matter dynamics and are altered by interactions with the soil biota resulting in thermodynamic optimality states. The dynamics of soil biota lead to the emergence of simple functional behaviour, non-equilibria and steady states that can be characterised by thermodynamic optimality.

Individual projects and project clusters, respectively, should address these hypotheses with a clear focus on soil organic carbon related to microbial ecology. This should encompass at least one of the topics: energy dissipation and matter fluxes in microbial communities and trophic networks, energy and general carbon use efficiency in comparison to microbial growth yields, integration of thermodynamic principles, substrate ecological stoichiometry and energy use limitations, steady state levels and gradients (water, substrate and energy fluxes) as well as boundary conditions.

A system approach in the sense described above is obligatory as well as contribution to and participation in the Common Experimental Platform with a set of preselected soil materials and isotope labelled substrates of known energy content and stoichiometry. Isotope probing approaches coupled to high-resolution biomarker analyses, calorimetric experiments and Gibbs energy assessment including modelling are expected. Advantage should be taken of “omics” approaches to reveal the diversity, processes and responses of the soil microbiome as well as of the technological potential of high spatial resolution 3D imaging for soil microstructure analysis and chemical mapping for visualisation of compound fluxes and spatial arrangements.

According to the soil systems ecology approach and in line with the suggested energetic framework, experiments need to gain complete mass and energy balances including CO2 emissions. Preferably, experiments are conducted in microcosms, enabling control of ingoing/outgoing compounds and of boundary conditions. The relevant parameter patterns need to be investigated in situ, and should range from molecular scale to decimetre scale, and show connections towards the larger ecosystem scale.

This call particularly invites proposals from interdisciplinary teams representing expertise from soil biogeochemistry, microbiology, ecology, molecular biology, thermodynamics, biophysics, bioinformatics, statistics, and modelling.

Additional information on the programme, including the Central Experimental Platform, suggested techniques and modelling approaches, should be taken from the SoilSystems homepage (see below).

Proposals must be written in English and submitted to the DFG by 15 December 2020. Please note that proposals can only be submitted via elan, the DFG’s electronic proposal processing system. To enter a new project within the existing Priority Programme, go to Proposal Submission – New Project/Draft Proposal – Priority Programmes and select “SPP 2322/1 – SoilSystems” from the current list of calls.

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. In addition to submitting your proposal through elan, please send an electronic copy to the programme coordinator.

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 1 December 2020 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.

Details of the research concept of the programme, the focal topics and the Central Experimental Platform will be presented at an organisational video-conference to be held in September 2020. This meeting provides the opportunity for the initiation of joint proposals and is supposed to harmonise and coordinate individual grant proposals. Participation is only for scientists eligible to submit proposals to the DFG and upon prior registration at the homepage (Deadline 1 September 2020). Participants may introduce their research approach briefly (2 minutes) using a template that can be found at the programme’s homepage.

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 scientific enquiries concerning the Priority Programme please contact:

  • Prof. Dr. Sören Thiele-Bruhn
    Universität Trier
    Fachbereich V – Raum- und Umweltwissenschaften
    Fach Bodenkunde
    Campus II
    54296 Trier
    phone +49 651 2012241
    Link auf E-Mailthiele@uni-trier.de
  • Prof. Dr. Matthias Kästner
    Helmholtzzentrum für Umweltforschung – UFZ
    Themenbereich Umwelt- und Biotechnologie
    Department Umweltbiotechnologie
    Permoserstr. 15
    04318 Leipzig
    phone +49 341 235-1235
    Link auf E-Mailmatthias.kaestner@ufz.de 

Questions on the DFG proposal process can be directed to:

Programme contact:

Administrative contact:


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