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Information für die Wissenschaft Nr. 41 | 1. August 2014
Priority Programme “EarthShape: Earth Surface Shaping by Biota” (SPP 1803)

The Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has established a new Priority Programme entitled “EarthShape: Earth Surface Shaping by Biota” (SPP 1803). The programme is designed to run for six years; the present call invites proposals for the first 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 in addition biologic processes form soil, influence topography, and thereby shape the Earth’s surface and modulate the impact of climate change on the Earth’s surface. New scientific technology now allows identification of the role of microorganisms, plants, and animals on the formation of soils and the shape of topography.

EarthShape invites scientists of different scientific disciplines in the geosciences, ecology, soil sciences, hydrology, microbiology, and geography 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 that work on different time scales. Emphasis is placed on non-anthropogenic geomorphic processes.

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 vegetation cover and type 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 focus on depositional environments (lakes, offshore sediment) where a well-defined upstream catchment or sediment source is available. The short-term (annual to decadal) and long-term (millennial to glacial/interglacial) relationship between depositional processes and vegetation composition should be explored using proxy data from sedimentary archives.
  • Bridging time scales with coupled system modeling. EarthShape intends to integrate the previous four research clusters and bridge between time scales through numerical modeling. This could include modeling expertise in: landscape evolution, soil erosion, surface and near surface hydrology, dynamic vegetation, eco-hydrological, and geochemistry. These models should be calibrated with present-day data and then extrapolated to longer time scale data sets.

Study Area: EarthShape research will be conducted in selected natural reserves in the Chilean coastal range that features spectacular vegetation gradients and is controlled by climate ranging from hyper-arid to humid temperate.

Paired / Linked Investigations: Submitted proposals are encouraged (but not required) to include at least two PI’s from different disciplines (e.g., biologist or biogeoscientist and geoscientist; soil scientist and geoscientist; biologist and hydrologist). Proposals can be submitted as paired (one proposal with multiple investigators), or submitted separately with very clear cross-links to each other. In the latter approach proposals can be independently funded if one of the proposals is not of sufficient quality.

Research proposals for the first three-year funding period, written in English, are now invited. All proposals should follow the guidelines in DFG form 50.05 (Priority Programmes) and 54.01 (Project Proposals). Please include a title page with your name, your address, and the title of your project in your application. Deadline for proposal submission is 25 February 2015. The anticipated start date of projects should be fall 2015.

Proposals must be submitted via the DFG’s electronic submission system elan, selecting “SPP 1803”. If you are using the elan system for the first time, please note that you need to register yourself and your institutional addresses before being able to submit a proposal. Also, if you are planning to move to a different institution (e.g. with a Temporary Position for Principal Investigators) you need to register the new institutional address beforehand. Please make sure that all applicants of your project (in case there is more than one) start their registration at the latest two weeks before the submission deadline. The registration requests are handled manually by DFG staff.

In addition to submitting your proposal to the DFG, please send an electronic version (pdf format) to the coordinator Todd Ehlers.

A coordination workshop will be held at the GFZ Potsdam on the 30 and 31 October 2014. Potential proposers are kindly asked to participate and send together with the registration their address and 2-3 sentences on scientific competences and interest on the project. Participation in the workshop is not mandatory, but encouraged to enhance paired/linked investigations and utilisation of the study areas. Please register for the workshop by 19 September 2014.

Further information

For details about the Priority Programme’s scientific goals please refer to the web site:

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, part B, which can be found on the DFG’s website at:

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

For administrative and formal inquiries please contact:

Please register for the workshop by 19 September 2014 to

GFZ Potsdam has reserved rooms in Hotel Mercure at the reduced rate of €77 (please name “EarthShape” when you book):