What’s New in the Division of Environmental Biology’s Core Solicitation?

DEB’s new core programs solicitation (NSF 21-504) has been published. Many parts of the solicitation remain the same, but here we highlight some of the updates.   This post serves primarily as an alert to important changes to the solicitation.  As always, we encourage you to read the entire solicitation carefully.

Submission Mechanism – We’re moving to Research.gov

There will be a grace period of 90-days from the date on which the new solicitations were published during which proposals can still be submitted through FastLane. After the 90-day period, the new solicitations will no longer be available in FastLane and any new proposals must be submitted through Research.gov (or Grants.gov). The 90-day period for the DEB core programs solicitation ends at 11:59pm on January 7, 2021. More information from our Assistant Director, Dr. Joanne Tornow, can be found here and you can sign up for next week’s BIO-wide virtual office hours.

Bridging Ecology and Evolution (BEE)

The language describing the BEE category has been updated to support research that innovatively integrates the fields of Ecology and Evolution, including, but not limited to, questions in eco-evolutionary dynamics, historical community ecology, macroecology, macroevolution, biogeography, and ecosystem-level consequences of evolution. Proposals that seek to understand feedbacks between ecological and evolutionary processes, or that use concepts in one field to motivate novel questions and analyses in the other are particularly encouraged. Studies should aim to address questions that integrate across the ecological and evolutionary core programs in DEB. 

Removal of the Rules of Life Track 

The Rules of Life (RoL) track is no longer a part of this solicitation. A new separate opportunity centered on The Rules of Life (RoL) is forthcoming. Sign up for NSF Updates to be notified when it is released.

If you have any questions, please reach out to a Program Officer or contact us at debquestions@nsf.gov.

Upcoming Virtual Office Hours: Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology (PRFB)

Join us Monday, October 19th from 1pm-2pm EDT for DEB’s next Virtual Office Hour. Program Officers will provide an introduction to the Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology (PRFB) Solicitation (NSF 20-602). Representatives from each of the four DEB core programs will be available for questions, which can be on any DEB or NSF topic. 

Please use the registration link below to participate. Upcoming DEB Virtual Office Hours are announced ahead of time on DEBrief, so sign up for blog notifications for reminders. 


If you can’t make it to this or any future office hours, don’t worry! Come back to the blog, as we will be posting a recap and the presentation slides. As always, our Virtual Office Hours will happen on the second Monday of every month from 1pm-2pm EDT. Below is a list of upcoming dates and topics (subject to change), so be sure to add them to your calendars! 

Upcoming Office Hours and Topics:  

October 19: BIO Postdoc Research Fellowship Program 

November 9: Welcome to DEB 

December 14: Mid-Career Opportunities 

January 11: TBD 

From the AD: BIO “No-Deadline” Solicitations Migrating to Research.gov

As part of NSF’s ongoing efforts to innovate and migrate proposal preparation and submission capabilities from FastLane to Research.gov (see Important Notice No. 147), the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) has announced that proposal submissions for our “no-deadline” programs will migrate to Research.gov beginning with revised solicitations to be released in the near future. This change was announced in a Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 20-129) released today and is the first phase of a migration of all NSF solicitations to Research.gov.

Specifically, the following programs will have new solicitations published in the coming weeks at which point investigators should begin submitting proposals through Research.gov. There will be a grace period of 90-days from the date on which the new solicitations are published during which proposals can still be submitted through FastLane. After the 90-day period, the new solicitations will no longer be available in FastLane and any new proposals must be submitted through Research.Gov (or Grants.Gov).

The programs whose solicitations will migrate from FastLane to Research.gov are:

Research.gov improves the user experience while also reducing administrative burden. The system is also flexible enough to meet both users’ changing needs and emerging government requirements. A significant fraction of proposals is already being submitted through Research.gov and investigators report it to be intuitive to use. We do not anticipate that the change to Research.gov will have significant impacts on the submission process. This migration will not affect the merit review process in any way.

To support the community through this migration, technical support and FAQs and videos on proposal submission through Research.gov are available. In addition, we are offering a series of BIO-wide virtual office hours during which you can ask questions of BIO Program Officers.

The virtual office hours will occur on Monday, October 5 at 11 a.m. EDT; Tuesday October 6 at 10 a.m. EDT; Wednesday, October 7 at 1 p.m. EDT; and Thursday, October 8 at 3 p.m. EDT. Members of the community can register for these sessions via NSF.gov.

Finally, if you have any immediate questions please reach out to BIOnodeadline@nsf.gov, which is monitored by Program Officers from across BIO.


Image of the signature of Dr. Joanne Tornow, Assistant Director for Biological Sciences

Joanne S. Tornow, Ph.D.

Assistant Director

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Meet DEB: Priscilla Tucker

Priscilla showing off a fresh almond croissant at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market

Name and Cluster: My name is Priscilla Tucker and I have joined the Evolutionary Processes cluster as a rotating Program Officer.

Education: BA, Colgate University; MS and PhD, Texas A&M University

Home Institution: University of Michigan

Tell us about your research: I am interested in mammalian diversification and the evolutionary processes that give rise to it. My recent research includes the study of gene and genome dynamics in naturally occurring hybrid populations of house mice to explore the genetic underpinnings of the species boundary. Using genetic and genomic tools, recent graduate students in my lab have studied hybridization in New World monkeys, dispersal dynamics of small mammals in tropical agroecosystems, and range expansion of a North American mesopredator.

Why do you want to serve with NSF?  Throughout my career I have served on NSF panels. I found the review process a collective enterprise among colleagues. I greatly appreciated the thoughtful and intellectually stimulating discussion of research proposals, and I always came away from the experience a better scientist and mentor. I hope to facilitate this experience for others. NSF has also provided funding for my research in a variety of ways over many years.  My term as a Program Officer is an opportunity to give back.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? I certainly look forward to working with my colleagues in the Evolutionary Processes cluster and across DEB more generally.  It is a chance to help push the frontiers of evolutionary and ecological research in exciting directions and to promote the important contributions of ecologists and evolutionary biologists to the scientific community and to society, more generally.

9/14/20 Virtual Office Hours Recap – MSB-NES

The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) held its latest Virtual Office Hour on September 14th, 2020. We host these office hours 1-2pm EDT on the 2nd Monday of every month. There is a designated theme each time, but attendees are welcome to ask about other NSF-related topics. Program Officers from each of DEB’s clusters are present at each Virtual Office Hour, so a wide range of scientific perspectives are represented. This month’s topic was the Macrosystems Biology and NEON-Enabled Science (MSB-NES) Solicitation (NSF 20-506).

The presentation and other documents are available here:

If you were unable to attend, here are some of the questions asked during the Q & A section:

Q: For the macrosystem small awards (MSA) it was mentioned that proposals to develop NEON tools would be considered. Can you elaborate on the types of tools you are interested in?

A: The development of tools that will explicitly enhance the processing, use, and/or analysis of NEON data or collections within the context of Macrosystems Biology research questions is encouraged in the solicitation.  Here is one example of a project recently funded which proposes to develop a tool to produce a higher-level data product from NEON data:

DEB-2017860/2017829 Collaborative Research: MSA: Development and Validation of a Continuous Soil Respiration Product at Core Terrestrial NEON Site

Proposals strictly for tool or model development or for tools/models that are only indirectly applicable to NEON may be more appropriate for core programs in the Division of Biological Infrastructure that support informatics research and cyberinfrastructure development.

Q: Will proposals that have the option to send samples to NEON biorepositories be looked on more favorably if such efforts are written into the proposal? Will it be more valuable to NSF NEON if your project has the opportunity to contribute a taxonomic group that is currently underrepresented in NEON biorepositories?

A: Projects do not have the option to submit samples to the NEON Biorepository – so plans to do that would neither make sense nor make your proposal more competitive. The NEON Biorepository exists to house samples collected as part the Observatory’s activities. NEON field scientists collect a variety of specific, targeted specimens and samples at terrestrial and aquatic field sites at regular intervals throughout the year. They collect the samples in a prescribed manner using published protocols to ensure quality control. If you are interested in using samples or specimens from the NEON Biorepository, please reach out to biorepo@asu.edu and they will be able to help you.

It is worth noting that programs in DEB and other BIO divisions do encourage proposals for studies that will advance our knowledge of understudied groups of organisms. An example of this is in the Systematics and Biodiversity Cluster, which offers a special category of funding for studies of Poorly Sampled and Unknown Taxa (PurSUiT). PurSUiT focuses on the projects that fill significant gaps in biodiversity knowledge.  

Q: Could you say a bit more about the difference in NSF’s view between the cross-site comparison studies that have regional or continental scale frameworks and those that lack regional or continental scale frameworks? In the solicitation it says, “proposals that lack a regional or continental scale framework (i.e., proposals that are inter-site comparisons or multi-site analyses of general ecosystem concepts or theories) will not be considered.” How should we understand this difference?

A: First, to help assess program fit we encourage you to email a 1-page summary of your project to an MSB-NES Program Officer. Then we can give you feedback as to whether the proposal should be submitted to MSB-NES or we may direct you to another NSF program area. The MSB-NES program supports research to understand biological phenomena at very large (regional to continental) spatial scales.  Supported projects may or may not use NEON infrastructure and/or data; those that do are given priority. Projects that propose to use one or more NEON sites for comparative purposes (such as altitudinal or climatic comparisons), but do not propose to detect, explain, and/or predict biological phenomena at and across regional to continental scales will not be suitable for MSB-NES.  Other programs in DEB and other BIO divisions will often be appropriate for such proposals.

Q: I’m part of a large number of CoPI’s at various institutions on a collaborative grant. With whom am I in conflict, i.e. which names go on the CoA form?

A: For this specific situation, you’re in conflict with anyone you have collaborated with on a grant within the last 48 months. The NSF provided template gives guidance on all of the other requirements for inclusion on the CoA form.  Primary investigators should fill out the template using the guidance provided.

Please reach out to a Program Officer if you have any questions about the proposal submission and review process in DEB programs.

Our next virtual office hours will be held on October 19th, 2020 from 1-2pm EDT and will address the BIO Postdoc Program (NSF 20-602).

Be sure to check back here or on the NSF Events Page for information on how to register.

Upcoming Office Hours and Topics:

October 19: BIO Postdoc Program

November 9: Intro to DEB

December 14: Supplements

January 11: TBD (Feel free to suggest a topic!)

9/10/20 Virtual Office Hours Recap – Systematics

The Division of Environmental Biology (DEB) held a special Virtual Office Hour on September 10th, 2020 focusing on opportunities for funding research in Systematics.

The presentation is available here:

              Slides (PDF)

If you were unable to attend, here are some of the questions asked during the Q & A session:

Considering the current uncertain situation related to COVID-19, is it possible to submit a proposal that has a substantial overseas travel component, including fieldwork?

At this time, we recommend that you incorporate into your proposal whatever travel and fieldwork is needed to complete your research aims. Since there is so much uncertainty, it is not possible to plan for the long term, and we do not know how long the current restrictions will remain in place. Ultimately, if one does receive funding, and travel to the particular regions still remains untenable, a no cost extension can be requested that will help extend the project until such travel may be possible.

Is specimen digitization of types in foreign countries acceptable in the budget?

Yes, it is, if the digitization activities are specifically connected to questions being addressed by the project. This type of activity may also help achieve goals related to open data, so it could be worthwhile to address in the Project Description and the Data Management Plan how collecting and sharing these data will be relevant for the proposed work.

Can a Small Grant (SG) be submitted as a subcategory of another grant program, like an Advancing Revisionary Taxonomy and Systematics (ARTS)?

Absolutely. Indeed, submitted grants can qualify for a number of such subcategories and thus can be submitted with multiple acronyms in the title.

If one is looking to create a reference genome to address ecological and ecophysiological questions using transcriptomics, is this the best program to target? 

Research using transcriptomics in this cluster is definitely supported, but the specific rationale for such approaches needs to be addressing questions relevant to systematics, for instance, reconstructing phylogenetic relationships. In this particular case, it does sounds like this work might be a better fit for another cluster in DEB, such as the Ecosystem Studies Program (ES), or perhaps even another Division within Biological Sciences, such as Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS). We encourage you to contact the Program Officers in either of these areas to receive additional information.

In a proposal, is it necessary for the Broader Impacts (BIs) to emphasize producing novel outreach or should they instead leverage existing outreach capacity?

Either approach is acceptable. If one can tap into an existing, successful program, then that can be one component of a set of BIs. Further, it may be easier to convince panelists and reviewers that such approaches will be successful. On the other hand, developing novel outreach activities tailored to your project can be exciting to reviewers, though It may be harder to convince panelists and reviewers that such approaches will be successful since they don’t have a pre-existing track record. When writing a proposal, you need to decide which approach fits better into the type of work you aim to do.

Are systematics proposals expected to include new or novel phylogenetic analysis methods?

New methods are always welcome, but they are not required or expected.

Is it possible to submit more than one proposal (with unrelated questions), as a PI?

Yes, currently there is not a limit on the number of proposals that an investigator can submit, as long as they focus on substantially different questions.

For ARTS proposals, should one aim to include questions/methods relevant to the evolution of the group of interest (e.g., biogeography, character evolution, etc.) in addition to the stated goals of revisionary taxonomy and systematics along with training?

A key aim of the ARTS category of proposals is to support revisionary taxonomy and systematics that leads to predictive classifications and includes training. Thus, this is not required. However, more significant ecological and evolutionary questions that can ultimately be addressed through such work may be more likely to resonate well with panelists and reviewers and thus are certainly encouraged.

What is the general distinction between a core SBS proposal and a Bridging Ecology & Evolution (BEE) proposal?

A BEE proposal needs to specifically connect core areas of theory between ecology and evolution or combine hypotheses between the two disciplines with a focus on mechanisms and processes. Such proposals are reviewed not solely within SBS but also by program officers from other clusters within DEB. It is very useful to have a specific statement in a BEE proposal that shows how the work integrates questions and mechanisms that span these different conceptual areas. Just as an example, mapping a set of ecological characteristics to a phylogeny could potentially be of interest as an SBS proposal, but it does not have enough focus on distinct ecological and/or evolutionary processes and mechanisms to make a compelling case for a BEE proposal. A connection across disciplines but also via mechanisms and processes is essential.

Would population/subspecies level proposals be appropriate for the Systematics and Biodiversity Science program?

It depends on your specific idea, but many proposals addressing only questions at the population level are best suited to the Evolutionary Processes cluster. However, many projects include components both above and below the species level, so we encourage you to contact a Program Officer to discuss your particular situation.

For proposals involving collecting taxa overseas, are there any specific requirements regarding the Nagoya protocol?

We expect adherence to the Nagoya protocol and any local regulations when conducting international field work.

I work primarily in developing countries and do a substantial amount of training of international students. Does training and capacity building of non-US students count?

When it comes to student training, the emphasis of NSF funding will be on students at US institutions. However, NSF recognizes the importance of true intellectual collaboration that provides a strong foundation for international work, which will frequently involve foreign researchers in training as well as the core research. Any training for non-US students should be described in terms of how it improves the efficiency of the activities of US researchers. We encourage you to speak with Program Officers if you have any specific questions about ways that this can be structured.

How essential is it to incorporate undergraduate or graduate student training into a proposal?

Such types of student training are an important type of Broader Impacts (BI), but they are not the only or even a required type, and indeed sometimes they may not even be feasible depending on the institution one comes from. Other BIs can be utilized instead. Pick the type of BIs that you think will fit best with your project, its aims, and the institution you are at.

Who do I need to contact if I would like to serve as a reviewer?

We are always looking for interested reviewers and panelists. If you would like to volunteer for panel service, please visit this site and let us know you are interested.

Please reach out to a Program Officer if you have any questions about the proposal submission and review process in DEB programs.

Biology Integration Institutes (BII)

To promote integration across biological subdisciplines, the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) has released a revised solicitation (NSF 20-601) under the Biology Integration Institutes (BII) program.

The program, launched this year, supports collaborative teams investigating questions that span multiple disciplines within and beyond biology. BII is interested in research that informs our understanding of biological processes and mechanisms across and within organizational scales – from molecules to global scales.

Each Institute must identify a Research Theme, centered around a compelling and broad biological question poised for breakthroughs by collaboration across biological subdisciplines. The Theme must be larger in scope than research projects typically submitted to core programs in the BIO Directorate. While the proposed project does not have to span all biological subdisciplines (that would be a lot), it should span more than one subdiscipline and be compelling across the subdisciplines spanned. These efforts are funded with an initial commitment of 5 years and the possibility of a 5-year continuation.

Proposals are due by January 13, 2021. Revisions include the elimination of the “Design” track and the elimination of the Letter of Intent (just apply!).

Visit here to learn more about what was recently funded and if you have specific questions, please reach out to one of the Program Officers listed on the program page.

Upcoming Virtual Office Hours: Macrosystems Biology and NEON-Enabled Science Proposals

Join us Monday, September 14th from 1pm-2pm EDT for DEB’s next Virtual Office Hour. Program Officers will provide an introduction to the Macrosystems Biology and NEON-Enabled Science (MSB-NES) Solicitation (NSF 20-506). Representatives from each of the four DEB core programs will be available for questions, which can be on any DEB or NSF topic.

Please use the registration link below to participate. Upcoming DEB Virtual Office Hours are announced ahead of time on DEBrief, so sign up for blog notifications for reminders.


If you can’t make it to this or any future office hours, don’t worry! Come back to the blog, as we will be posting a recap and the presentation slides. As always, our Virtual Office Hours will happen on the second Monday of every month from 1pm-2pm EDT. Below is a list of upcoming dates and topics (subject to change), so be sure to add them to your calendars!

Upcoming Office Hours and Topics: 

September 14: Macrosystems Biology and NEON-Enabled Science (MSB-NES)

October 19: BIO Postdoc Research Fellowship Program

November 9: Intro to DEB

December 14: Supplements to existing awards

January 11: TBD

Meet DEB: Marty Condon

MC and dogs cropped

                      Marty being supervised by Melon, Phoebe, and Max.

Name and Cluster: My name is Marty Condon and I’ve joined the Evolutionary Processes Science cluster as a rotating Program Officer.

Education: B.S. University of Michigan, Ph.D. University of Texas

Home Institution: Cornell College

Tell us about your research: I am a naturalist. I ask who, where, how, and why questions—and focus on “why.” I work on plant-animal interactions involving sexually dimorphic Neotropical cucurbit vines with size-related sex determination. These plant-animal interactions are complicated and specialized. Flowers of the vine are pollinated by hummingbirds and Heliconius butterflies while large bats are seed dispersal agents, and tephritid fruit flies (Blepharoneura) are seed predators. Blepharoneura species are extraordinarily specialized and diverse: most species feed on the calyx of only a single sex flower of only one species of plant. Many cucurbit species are hosts to extremely diverse environments with any given plant species hosting more than a dozen species of fly. The flies are parasitized by similarly specialized and diverse lethal parasitic wasps. Most wasps can kill only one species of fly, and most fly species are lethal to all but one species of specialist wasp. So how do the flies and wasps kill each other? Do poorly defended flies escape enemies by switching host plants? Our research works within this complex web of interactions and currently tests the hypothesis that virulence affects diversification rates.

Why do you want to serve with NSF? NSF funding is critically important for evolutionary and ecological research and made my work possible. I want to serve with NSF because I will learn so much about the funding process. As a panelist on a variety of panels, I learned a lot about the review process and saw how a diversity of voices (including those of us from small liberal arts colleges) can encourage creative science. Now I want to find out what happens before and after panels meet. I look forward to being part of that process.

What are you looking forward to in your tenure here at NSF? The opportunity to read proposals representing the future of science is super exciting, as is the opportunity to work with colleagues in the Division of Environmental Biology and more broadly within NSF. I’m especially interested in encouraging collaboration across areas of science. I firmly believe that advances in biology depend upon the quality of the questions that scientists ask. Ideally, those questions are not constrained by boundaries that are perceived to define disciplines or subsets of disciplines.

Systematics and Biodiversity Science-focused Office Hour

The Systematics and Biodiversity Science Cluster invites you to join a special systematics-themed edition of DEB’s Virtual Office Hours on Thursday, September 10th from 1:00-2:00 PM EDT. Program Officers will be on hand to talk about opportunities for funding research in systematics and to answer your questions. We’ll highlight special proposal categories in the DEB solicitation designed to support systematics research (e.g., ARTS and PurSUiT), as well as cross-cutting programs that systematists might want to explore (e.g., Bridging Ecology & Evolution (BEE) and Dimensions of Biodiversity). Please click on the link below to register for this webinar.

Register for the SBS Office Hour.