The aim of the BETR programme is to advance understanding of the evolution of the biosphere by integrating excellent palaeoscience (such as palaeontology, geochemistry, geochronology and phylogenomics) and cutting-edge modelling.
Studying the fossil record can provide insights into how the biosphere responds to change, including if there are traits whose loss can precipitate ecosystem collapse and whether there is a relationship between biodiversity and biosphere resilience. A better understanding of how ecosystems have responded to change in the past can therefore enable better predictions of how present day ecosystems will respond to future change.
To determine the rates and causes of change in the fossil record a diverse range of geological, biotic and geochemical data needs to be integrated. This integration is dependent on having tightly constrained ages for the datasets. The aim of the BETR programme is to support the interdisciplinary research needed to determine the rates and causes of change. This aim will be achieved by combining geochemical, geochronological and palaeontological data into a common geospatial framework which is integrated process-based models of evolutionary ecology coupled to biogeochemistry and climate.
The programme will address three key questions:
- when and how were the stability/resilience regimes of the biosphere transformed?
- do environmental or biotic drivers govern evolutionary change?
- how have the coupled biogeochemical cycles changed through time?
To help build partnerships and facilitate collaboration, NERC and NSFC with support from UKRI China and the Chinese Academy of Sciences Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology held a joint workshop in May 2015 in Nanjing. The aim of the workshop was to discuss the key science challenges in this area and the outcome of the workshop has been used to shape the scope of the funding opportunity for research proposals.
While projects may tackle different issues, there will be potential benefits from close collaborations between different research projects.