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Opportunities for Promoting Understanding through Synthesis program awards $1.5 million in new grant

Funding will lead to new understanding of subjects as large as the Amazon, as small as a mosquito

National Science Foundation


IMAGE: Ectotherms, or organisms without internal heat sources, such as frogs, are a 2015 OPUS topic. view more

Credit: NSF/Nicole Rager-Fuller

Synthesis: the combination of ideas that forms a theory or system.

For the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Environmental Biology (DEB), synthesis translates into a larger understanding of everything from the ecosystem of the Amazon, to lakes large and small, to predator-prey relationships, to the secret lives of mosquitoes--and the diseases they sometimes carry.

To encourage such syntheses, DEB has established a program called Opportunities for Promoting Understanding through Synthesis (OPUS). This year, the program awarded $1.5 million in nine new grants.

Research projects that incorporate synthesis--integrating information from several studies--have been influential in spawning new knowledge, understanding and research directions, scientists have found.

"OPUS awards provide unique opportunities for scientists to reflect on larger themes that emerge over the course of several studies," says George Gilchrist, lead OPUS program director in DEB. "OPUS products are unique synergies that offer insights and tools to inspire new research."

The initiative supports scientists in projects that bring together the body of their research. The awards are given to researchers who have, over time, produced scientific journal papers from a series of related projects but have not yet integrated that series in a single set of conclusions.

OPUS grants are awarded to scientists at mid-to-late career stages, as well as to those early enough in their careers to produce unique insights important to science and to developing future work.

Projects culminate in one or more products such as scientific papers, monographs, software, websites, books, films and artistic interpretations.

Whether about the organisms that live in lakes or what happens to animals in a time of climate change, OPUS awards generate new conclusions that are more than the sum of their parts.

2015 NSF DEB OPUS Awards:

OPUS: Geographical gradients and contemporary end points of organic evolution
William Bradshaw and Christina Holzapfel, University of Oregon

OPUS: Collaborative Research: Analysis of Cross-Boundary Fluxes, Trophic Cascades and Ecosystem Stability Based on 32 Years of Whole-Lake Experiments
Stephen Carpenter, University of Wisconsin-Madison

OPUS: Biogeochemistry of Amazonian Terrestrial Ecosystems
Eric Davidson, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

OPUS: Ectotherms in Changing Climates
Marc Mangel, University of California, Santa Cruz

OPUS: Ecological and Evolutionary Perspectives on the Origins of Community Diversity
Gary Mittelbach, Michigan State University

OPUS: Collaborative Research: Analysis of Cross-Boundary Fluxes, Trophic Cascades and Ecosystem Stability Based on 32 Years of Whole-Lake Experiments
Michael Pace, University of Virginia

OPUS: Intrinsic Dynamics of the Regional Community
Robert Ricklefs, University of Missouri-Saint Louis

OPUS: Integrating ecology, behavioral syndromes and social selection
Andrew Sih, University of California, Davis

OPUS: Developing a synthetic understanding of suspension-feeders, master switches in freshwater ecosystems
David Strayer, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies


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