Announcing the winners of a grants programme for biodiversity research

The five projects awarded funding in the first round of the Program for Early-stage Grants Advancing Sustainability Science (PEGASuS) focus on questions critical to human wellbeing – from sustainable farming to the loss of mountain biodiversity.

Future Earth is pleased to announce the winners of the first round of grants for the Program for Early-stage Grants Advancing Sustainability Science (PEGASuS), focusing on biodiversity and natural assets. In this phase, the programme will support five research projects, each of which will examine critical questions around the relationships between humans and the environment. The winning projects cover a range of topics, including the impacts of the cocaine trade on natural areas in Mesoamerica and the sustainable farming of maize, pumpkins and other crops in Malawi. They were selected through a global search that attracted dozens of proposal from over 50 countries.

The winning projects are:

  • “Drug Trafficking and Central American Protected Areas: Focusing on Participatory Governance to Conserve Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity,” Bernardo Aguilar González PI, Fundación Neotrópica
  • “Farmer-led Agroecological Research in Malawi (FARM) for Biodiversity,” Rachel Bezner Kerr PI, Cornell University
  • “Toward biodiversity-related opportunities for sustainable development: a global social-ecological mountain comparison,” Markus Fischer PI, GMBA and University of Bern
  • “Nurturing a Shift towards Equitable Valuation of Nature in the Anthropocene (EQUIVAL),” Unai Pascual PI, ecoSERVICES and Basque Centre for Climate Change
  • “Cross-pollinating knowledge systems: exploring indigenous local knowledge about native bee diversity and ecology,” Wendy R. Townsend PI, University of Florida

“We are thrilled to announce these winning projects,” says Josh Tewksbury, director of the Colorado Global Hub of Future Earth. “They each take creative and wide-ranging approaches to understanding issues that matter for humans – from the loss of biodiversity on the world’s mountains to the disappearance of native bees in Bolivia. This is research that will have real impacts on the lives of people everywhere.”

This initiative is funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Science Program and the NOMIS Foundation. PEGASuS is jointly administered by Future Earth and Colorado State University's Global Biodiversity Center. It seeks to bring together researchers from different scientific disciplines to explore areas critical to the health of humans and the planet.

The PEGASuS partners will announce a second round of grants, focusing on ocean sustainability, in the spring of 2018. A third round, addressing issues around water, energy and food, is expected for early 2019.

“Biodiversity is the bedrock that provides humanity with all of our life-sustaining services, including water, food, shelter, energy, security and spiritual well-being,” says Chris Funk, Director of the Global Biodiversity Center, which co-sponsors the PEGASuS programme. “The research projects supported by the first round of the PEGASuS program integrate natural and social sciences in novel and exciting ways to advance biodiversity conservation. The CSU Global Biodiversity Center is proud to team up with Future Earth to support these innovative projects.”

The winning projects from the first round will receive a combined total of 600 000 USD in support from PEGASuS over a one-year period. Each one is made up of a dynamic team of scientists that come from two or more nations – drawing researchers from Costa Rica, the United States, India and more. These teams will also work closely with an array of experts and groups outside of academia, including science-policy bodies, farmers and Indigenous communities. These collaborations will help the teams to produce scientific findings that are useful to society. 

“I am delighted to see the breadth of the innovative grants awarded by the PEGASuS programme that are advancing sustainability science,” says Diana Wall, Director of Colorado State University’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability, which co-hosts the Colorado Hub of Future Earth.

Statements from project leaders

Bernardo Aguilar González, “Drug Trafficking and Central American Protected Areas: Focusing on Participatory Governance to Conserve Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity”

"Since 2000, Central America has become a major transit zone for cocaine, and the region's protected areas have become a new front line of the War on Drugs. Our past work has shown that 60% of total deforestation in biodiversity hot spots is linked to cocaine trafficking. We will undertake a participatory assessment of the impacts of drug transit on ecosystems services, biodiversity and environmental governance, and catalyze a regional observatory for continued monitoring of this alarming phenomenon.”

Rachel Bezner Kerr, “Farmer-led Agroecological Research in Malawi (FARM) for Biodiversity”

“Farmers in Malawi are using agroecological practices that improve food security and soils, but the effect on biodiversity is unknown. We will work with farmers to measure birds, bees and other organisms: If such farming practices increase wild biodiversity there are positive social and ecological implications for rural African communities.”

Markus Fischer, “Toward biodiversity-related opportunities for sustainable development: a global social-ecological mountain comparison”

“Mountain ecosystems and their biodiversity – which support billions of people, also in the lowlands, with vital ecosystem services – are profoundly affected by global change. Our social-ecological research compares mountain ranges all over the world to identify regionally adequate opportunities for sustainable development related to mountain biodiversity.”

Unai Pascual, "Nurturing a Shift towards Equitable Valuation of Nature in the Anthropocene (EQUIVAL)"

"The state of biodiversity largely depends on people’s behaviour, which in turn is mostly determined by how nature’s contributions to their well-being are perceived and valued. Often, due to social power imbalances, some types of values are prioritised over others in decision-making about biodiversity. In EQUIVAL we will explore to what extent equity is taken into account by social actors in valuation processes, with a special focus on the Global South."

Wendy R. Townsend, “Cross-pollinating knowledge systems: exploring indigenous local knowledge about native bee diversity and ecology”

“Information is needed for planning and management of threatened Bolivian native pollinators because they service about 70% of tropical forest plants, and their loss can negatively impact tree species diversity. To fill this need, we will document Bolivian local indigenous knowledge of native stingless bees and other insect pollinators.”