SNSF Advanced Grant for ecological modelling

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Niklaus Zimmermann (photo: ETH)
Niklaus Zimmermann (photo: ETH)
WSL biologist Niklaus Zimmermann has been awarded an SNSF Advanced Grant worth 2.8 million Swiss francs. He will use it to analyse biomes and model the challenges that climate change poses for the Earth’s vegetation zones.

Niklaus Zimmermann is an expert in modelling to predict changes in plant communities with climate change. Now he has set himself a new, ambitious goal: he wants to redefine and map the world’s vegetation zones, also known as biomes, and model the disturbances that will affect them with climate change. To this end, the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF has now awarded him an "Advanced Grant" worth 2.8 million Swiss francs for the next five years.

The term "biome" describes the most basic vegetation zones on earth, such as tropical rainforest, boreal coniferous forest, or Mediterranean hardwood vegetation. There are many definitions and different biome mappings floating around, which Zimmermann now wants to harmonise and put on a solid theoretical basis. He will also look back over the last 40 years to examine the disturbances that climate change has already entailed - drought, fire, insect infestations, but also the spread of invasive species. These disturbances become more frequent when climatic conditions change in such a way that the climate no longer suits the prevailing vegetation. If it is known which disturbances mainly occur in which biomes under climate change, future disturbances can be better predicted.

Niklaus Zimmermann studied biology in Bern and has worked at WSL since 1999, where he was a member of the directorate for 15 years. He is a titular professor at ETH Zurich. He has published over 240 articles in renowned journals (ISI) and since 2014 has been continuously on the Web of Science’s list of "highly cited" scientists in the field of ecology and environmental sciences.

Two of the global biomes where climate change is causing disruptions: (left) tropical rainforest.

SNSF Advanced Grants are a replacement for the Advanced Grants of the European Research Council (ERC), from which Switzerland are currently excluded. The awarding process is very competitive because, on the one hand, exactly the same procedure is used as for the ERC and, on the other hand, the awarding is not restricted to employees at Swiss research institutions. Any scientist worldwide can apply for SNSF Advanced Grants, as long as the grant is based at a research institution in Switzerland. There are three different categories of ERC replacement grants, called "Starting Grants", "Consolidator Grants" and "Advanced Grants", as in ERC funding, which can be applied for depending on the progress of one’s scientific career. These funds tend to support very innovative research.

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