Collaborative projects to advance understanding of biodiversity in Latin America

17 May 2019

NERC-funded researchers have begun a series of collaborative projects with partners in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru to develop understanding of the social and economic role of biodiversity in Latin America, and how it can be managed more sustainably.

Montage of biodiversity images

The projects are funded under the Latin American Biodiversity Programme (LATAM), as part of the Newton Fund. The first phase, led by the British Council, established relationships between participating countries and identified shared areas of concern.

The current phase is led by NERC and invited researchers to submit research proposals involving UK researchers and partners from at least two of the other participating countries.

NERC is running the programme in partnership with four other funders: the Argentine National Scientific & Technical Research Council (CONICET), the Brazilian São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), the Chilean National Commission for Scientific & Technological Research (CONICYT), and the Peruvian National Council for Science, Technology & Technological Innovation (CONCYTEC).

NERC and its partners are investing over £5 million in the programme. The four projects were awarded funding following a joint evaluation by the funding agencies.

NERC Associate Director of Research Ned Garnett said:

We are pleased to support such an ambitious collaborative project. LATAM transcends national boundaries to build collaborations and develop robust evidence bases to ensure that Latin America remains a prosperous and uniquely biodiverse region.

Jorge Tezón, Director for Scientific Development at CONICET, said:

Argentina gathers a wide variety of ecoregions and ecosystems. As a region, we face challenges for the sustainable use of our biological resources. Thus, based on the need to move to a resilient natural resource economy, many funding agencies have decided go a step beyond the traditional bilateral cooperation to join this multilateral initiative in order to promote interdisciplinary and transnational research projects. This is the first of its kind in which CONICET participates and we're glad to support three of the four approved projects where Argentinean research groups are involved.

Fabiola León Velarde, President of CONCYTEC, said:

Peru is a megadiverse country that has an extraordinary variability of ecosystems, species and genes, which has always been a great opportunity to boost its economic and social development. In this sense, moving towards a resilient natural resource economy is not only a great challenge for our country, but for the region. For this reason, we have joined the Newton Fund Latin American Biodiversity Programme to promote the execution of multilateral collaborative projects, in which Peruvian researchers participate, in order to increase the knowledge of biodiversity and its contribution to ecosystem services.

Professor Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, Scientific Director for FAPESP, said

At FAPESP we are happy to see the joint proposals selected in this call. Biodiversity is an extremely relevant topic for Brazil, and the BIOTA-FAPESP program will be enriched by these new grants.

Mariane Krause, President of CONICYT, said:

As Chile shares many ecosystems with neighbouring countries, CONICYT is very glad to have joined the Newton Fund invitation and to be a partner in the four awarded projects. This multilateral initiative, launched by the Newton Fund, will allow researchers from the UK and Latin America to develop joint research projects. This is a great opportunity for strengthening our collaboration in science and technology and, on the basis of this cooperation, to build up new scientific knowledge that will contribute to solving urgent local and regional problems which are dramatically impacting the ecosystems and biodiversity in our continent and the whole world.

Summaries of the four projects

Safeguarding pollination services in a changing world: Theory into practice (SURPASS2)


Bombus dahlbomii, the world's largest species of bumblebee, which is under threat

Led by: Matthew Heard, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Partners: Marcelo Aizen, INBIOMA (Argentina); Antonio Mauro Saraiva, Universidade de Sao Paulo (Brazil); Francisco E Fontúrbel, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (Chile)

The ongoing decline of pollinators threatens economically-important crops and wider biodiversity in Latin America. SURPASS2 builds on an earlier collaborative project (SURPASS) to build a coherent evidence base around Latin America's pollinators, their populations and diversity, and the services that they provide.

The project will examine how factors such as land management and invasive species affect pollinator communities, and use experiments, satellite imagery and modelling to predict areas that are at high risk of crop failure from inadequate levels of pollination. This evidence will be used to develop long-term plans for sustainably maximising the benefits of pollinating insects for agriculture.

Professor Matthew Heard, an ecologist at the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said:

We are excited to be part of this new collaborative international partnership which will significantly advance state-of-the-art knowledge of pollinator and landscape ecology across Latin America and help inform the management of pollination services for agricultural production and wider ecosystem health.

ARBOLES: A trait-based understanding of LATAM forest biodiversity & resilience

Tropical forest

Tropical forest in Tambopata National Park, Peru

Led by: David Galbraith, University of Leeds

Partners: Sandra Díaz, IMBIV, CONICET - National University of Cordoba (Argentina); Luiz Eduardo Oliveira e Cruz de Aragão, National Institute for Space Research (Brazil); Antonio Lara Aguilar, Universidad Austral de Chile (Chile); Eurídice Honorio Coronado, Instituto de lnvestigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana (Peru)

A cross-continent assessment of how humans are influencing Latin America's diverse forest ecosystems, from tropical rainforests in Amazonia to the temperate forests of Chile and Argentina. These forests are under a wide range of local pressures, including mining, selective logging and conversion to farmland, whilst also experiencing stressors due to climate change.

The project will examine how forest plants respond to these combined pressures and how the composition of plant species in Latin American forests is likely to shift over time, informing management strategies across the region.

Dr David Galbraith, Associate Professor of Earth Dynamics at the University of Leeds, said:

South America boasts an incredible diversity of forest ecosystems which include not only the Amazon rainforest but also Atlantic forests, Andean cloud forests and temperate forests in Chile and Argentina. What is really exciting about ARBOLES is that it brings together researchers and datasets from across all of these ecosystems to better understand changes in forest biodiversity at a continental scale.

Structure, connectivity and resilience of an exploited kelp ecosystem: Towards sustainable ecosystem-based fisheries management

Kelp forest

Kelp forest provide livelihoods and resources for many people in coastal Chile, but are vulnerable to overexploitation

Led by: Pippa Moore, Aberystwyth University

Partners: Alejandro Perez Matus, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile (Chile); Roberto Uribe, Instituto Del Mar Del Peru (Peru)

Kelp forests are some of the most productive and diverse habitats on Earth, but like many natural ecosystems are under threat from human impacts. In Chile, many people make a living by harvesting kelp and associated species from the region's kelp forests and Peru is interested in developing a kelp fishery. Better management of these kelp forests is required to prevent their degradation and fragmentation, and to improve their ability to support sustainable economic growth.

This project will examine how factors, including natural environmental variability, climate change and regional management practices, influence the ability of kelp forests to tolerate and recover from exploitation. This project will also work with local communities to explore the use of traditional knowledge and bottom-up approaches to support sustainable fisheries management.

Dr Pippa Moore, reader in marine ecology at Aberystwyth University, said:

This project provides an exciting opportunity to work with partners in Chile and Peru to ensure the sustainable development of an important fishery for the benefit of kelp harvesters and biodiversity.

Optimising the long term management of invasive species affecting biodiversity and the rural economy using adaptive management

Austral grebe

Austral Grebe, an emblematic native species endemic of Austral Argentina that is now critically endangered because of the impact of invasive mink that escaped from farms

Led by: Xavier Lambin, University of Aberdeen

Partners: Ignacio Roesler, IEGEBA-CONICET (Argentina); Alessandra Tomaselli Fidelis, Universidade Estadual Paulista (Brazil); Anibal Pauchard, Universidad de Concepcion (Chile)

Latin America has been invaded by a large number of introduced species which threaten the environment and economy. Evidence-based long-term strategies to control the most damaging non-native species are needed to ensure that resources and funds for intervention are applied where they can have the most positive impact.

The project will use complex models to develop intervention strategies for both well-studied and data-poor species, applying knowledge about species ecology, dispersal dynamics and intervention costs and the benefits they might yield. It will build a new framework to help governments and organisations make management decisions about invasive non-native species, and identify where new data is needed to inform the best course of action.

Professor Xavier Lambin, Professor of Ecology at the University of Aberdeen, said:

This project is a fantastic opportunity to improve management practice, now and in the future, to preserve biodiversity and rural livelihoods in parts of South America invaded by many problematic exotic plant and animal species that have become established. We are encountering much enthusiasm from researchers and practitioners keen to gain training in the use of the models needed for adaptive management.

Further information

Josie Rylands
Press & Communications Officer
01793 411787


1. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We coordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major environmental issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is part of UK Research & Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

2. FAPESP was founded in 1962 and is one of Brazil's most important science and technology funding agencies. Maintained by the transfer of 1% of the state's tax revenue, FAPESP selects and supports research projects submitted by scientists affiliated with higher education and research institutions in São Paulo State in all knowledge areas - sciences, technology and engineering, as well as the arts and humanities. Projects are selected by peer review based on assessments by Brazilian and foreign researchers not associated with FAPESP. The foundation also supports research in areas considered strategic through programs on such themes as biodiversity, global climate change, and bioenergy.

3. CONICET was founded in 1958 and is the main research performing organisation in Argentina. It comprises the following areas of knowledge: agrarian, engineering & material sciences; biological & health sciences, natural sciences; social sciences & humanities. CONICET employs and trains 10,000 staff researchers, funds around 11,000 research fellowships (both at doctoral and postdoctoral level) and has more than 25,000 engineers and technicians who provide qualified support to research teams. Research is carried out in more than 250 centres across the country that are jointly administrated with national higher education institutions. CONICET also supports strategic projects in subjects such as bioeconomy, biodiversity, food security, climate change and antimicrobial resistance.

4. CONCYTEC is is a specialised public technical body attached to the Presidency of the Council of Ministries that acts as the governing entity of the National System of Science, Technology, & Technological Innovation (SINACYT), which is composed of all the institutions and individuals in Peru dedicated to research, development and technological innovation and its promotion. The purpose of CONCYTEC is to regulate, manage, guide, encourage, coordinate, supervise and evaluate the state actions in science, technology, and technological innovation, as well as to promote and drive their development through concerted action and complementarity between programs and projects of public, academic and business institutions, including social organisations and SINACYT members.

5. Since its creation in 1967, CONICYT has been the advisory commission of the Presidency of the Republic on science and technology matters. CONICYT has been responsible for strengthening the scientific-technological base and the promotion of the formation of advanced human capital in Chile. Its aim is to improve the country's quality of life. In recent years, CONICYT has promoted initiatives to highlight the country's comparative advantages, sharing its natural laboratories with the world's leading scientific institutions and their researchers.