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Information für die Wissenschaft Nr. 11 | 20. Februar 2017
Priority Programme "Flexibility Matters: Interplay between Trait Diversity and Ecological Dynamics Using Aquatic Communities as Model Systems (DynaTrait)" (SPP 1704)

In June 2014 the Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has established the Priority Programme "Flexibility Matters: Interplay between Trait Diversity and Ecological Dynamics Using Aquatic Communities as Model Systems (DynaTrait)" (SPP 1704). The programme is designed to run for six years. The DFG invites with this call proposals for the second three-year funding period.

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, or 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 strives towards an intensive, mutually stimulating interplay between

  • experimental approaches at different scales,
  • field measurements, and
  • mathematical modelling.

The aim is to broaden our 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 (e.g. changes in predator or prey abundance). In particular, work should aim to quantify:

  • how the potential of ecological systems to adjust to altered abiotic and biotic conditions depends on phenotypic, genetic and species diversity,
  • how such potential for adjustments influences the type of ecological dynamics of, e.g., producers and consumers, and their responses to altered conditions, and
  • how the altered dynamics in turn influence the maintenance of biodiversity and thus the potential to adjust to future changes.

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 feedbacks 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 Priority 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 project cluster, or in cooperation with a modelling project, 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. Participation in the Priority Programme offers specific scientific exchange and training activities and demands to follow some general rules such as establishing thesis committees for Ph.D. students and promoting gender equality.

Research proposals for the second three-year funding period are now invited. Deadline for submission is 31 May 2017. All proposals must be written in English and follow the guidelines in DFG form 54.01en (Proposal Preparation Instructions). Please obey the rules for publication lists (form 1.91en). Further information on e.g. eligibility requirements can be found in DFG form 50.05en, part B.

Proposals must be submitted via the DFG's electronic proposal submission system "elan". Please select "Schwerpunktprogramm" and "SPP 1704/2 DynaTrait" when submitting your proposal and indicate whether you are submitting a renewal proposal or a new proposal. If you are using the "elan" system for the first time, please note that you need to register yourself and your institutional address 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 PDF copy including the summary to the coordinator Prof. Ursula Gaedke Link auf E-Mailgaedke@uni-potsdam.de.

For the scientific review of proposals, DFG may invite the applicants to present their projects to the review panel at a colloquium scheduled for 5–6 October 2017 in Potsdam.

Further Information

The DFG's electronic portal "elan" can be found at:

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

For further scientific information about the Priority Programme, please check the
website or contact the programme coordinator:

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


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