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Discovery Frontiers Call for Proposals:
Biodiversity and Adaptation of Biosystems

Value Up to $1 million per year for four years
Application Deadline April 17, 2017 – Letter of Intent
June 1, 2017 – Invitation to Apply
August 25, 2017 – Application, if invited to apply
Application Procedure See below
For more Information See below

Important Information


Discovery Frontiers (DF) grants are initiatives that identify and capitalize on emerging opportunities where Canada can benefit from its world-class capacity to take a leadership role in key areas of research and innovation. Discovery Frontiers address national research priorities and global challenges by supporting a small number of major new transformative and integrative activities. These initiatives will generate substantial impact from a one-time injection of funding for a defined period, addressing challenges and seizing leadership opportunities in areas of national importance.


Discovery Frontiers grants support a limited number of large international activities, opportunities or projects that are of high priority in the context of advanced research in Canada. These will be led by world-class Canadian researchers and will comprise multi-institutional teams that will generate substantial impact, for the benefit of Canada.

This initiative will bring together groups of researchers in new ways to address a major research challenge. The groups will incorporate new and emerging ideas, and combine their complementary expertise to conduct transformative, paradigm-changing research.

The fourth call for proposals is in the area of Biodiversity and Adaptation of Biosystems.

Humans are changing global habitats at a faster pace than ever through climate change, deforestation, ocean acidification and overfishing. Globally, over one in five species of vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants are now at risk of extinction (critically endangered, endangered, or threatened). Moreover, recent estimates show that climate change is playing an increasing role in this threat. In order to devise realistic and viable conservation and mitigation strategies for biodiversity and to address this global challenge, a comprehensive understanding of natural and managed environments from genes to ecosystems and how they respond or adapt to complex changing conditions is essential. In addition, harnessing ecological and evolutionary knowledge has the potential to spur adaptation where needed (to improve productivity in agriculture, forestry, aquaculture, fisheries) and to limit adaptation where undesirable (to prevent emerging diseases and resistance to pesticides or drugs).

To address the ongoing and alarming disappearance of species on Earth, Discovery Frontiers will support a program that will be paradigm-shifting, "transdisciplinary" in nature, open new fields or integrate existing fields in new ways, involve international collaboration, and accelerate the establishment of expertise and capacity.

This Discovery Frontiers initiative spans a range of disciplines including: evolution, climate change, productivity in managed systems, population dynamics, conservation, invasive species, extinctions, adaptation, and the diversity of life. It will bring diverse researchers together to conduct transformative and integrative research of international impact through studies, assessments, comprehensive experiments and the development of models that will inform and ultimately provide solutions to the global biodiversity-loss crisis and generate new knowledge on the nature of adaptation. This will also be an opportunity to develop improved methods for understanding and facilitating the adaptation, conservation, and health of ecosystems.

Given the nature of the research to be supported through this call for proposals and in recognition that the ability to implement policy or directly apply the research results can depend on socio-economic considerations as well as scientific understanding, proposals may include collaboration and integration across several disciplines. Proposals requesting funds from NSERC can include aspects of social sciences and humanities, provided that the main focus remains within the natural sciences and engineering. Research costs for these collaborations may comprise up to 30% of the project costs and must be identified in the project budget. All project expenditures will be subject to NSERC’s Use of Grant Funds guidelines.

The anticipated outcomes of this collaborative research initiative will redefine biodiversity science and likely lead to the following benefits:

  • a strong evidence-based focus in the development of new models and/or refinement of existing ones to gain a better understanding of ecosystems and the biodiversity they support, and processes of adaptation;
  • the development and use of new technologies, strategies or methodologies that advance model building and experimentation, reduce pressures on natural systems, and provide solutions to existing threats to biodiversity;
  • an improvement in forecasting future developments and consequently provide more precise directions in terms of implementing mitigation measures;
  • the dissemination of data, results, and advancements to the broader community, including the public domain for information and action.

Approaches used will emphasize new ideas, perspectives and solutions and interdisciplinary thinking with potential for long-term impacts. International linkages will be required.


Other than the general eligibility criteria found in the Discovery Frontiers grants description, there are no additional eligibility criteria for individuals that apply to this call for proposals.

Gender Equity and Diversity

Discovery Frontiers projects funded under this call for proposals are encouraged to promote approaches that increase the inclusion and advancement of women and other under-represented groups in the natural sciences and engineering, as one means to foster excellence in research and training. Diversity and increased gender equity must be considered when developing their group of co-applicants, collaborators and trainees.

Applicants must outline the measures that will be implemented to advance gender equity within the structure of the proposed network and its activities. Examples include strategies for any of the following:

  • increasing gender equity in the composition of the research team and group of trainees;
  • ensuring equitable mentorship of all trainees;
  • initiatives aimed at ensuring an equitable and inclusive research and work environment;
  • the implementation of networking and leadership training events within the project that highlight gender equity.

Further guidance on how to incorporate these gender equity measures within the full proposal, and how they will be assessed, will be provided prior to the full application stage.

Application Procedure

Letter of Intent

Applicants begin by submitting a Letter of Intent (LOI). The LOI must include a cover page (one page), a research proposal (maximum five pages) and biographical information on the team (maximum two pages). All documents should follow the NSERC On-line Presentation and Attachment Standards.

The cover page must include:

  • the project title;
  • a list of up to 10 keywords;
  • an approximate budget request, by project year;
  • the applicant’s name, affiliation, telephone number and email address; and
  • a list of all co-applicants, with affiliation and email address.

The research proposal should include:

  • a description of the main research challenges and activities;
  • a discussion of anticipated participation by collaborators, such as international researchers and government scientists, and their roles;
  • a discussion of anticipated outcomes and benefits;
  • a description of the plans for training of highly qualified personnel; and
  • a high level summary of the major budget items with justification.

The biographical information should contain short biographies of the applicant and co-applicants and their areas of expertise.

The LOI should be saved as a single portable document format (PDF) document, and uploaded to NSERC’s secure portal before the deadline.

Note that details concerning proposals that are successful at the LOI stage will be published on NSERC’s website.

LOI Review Procedures and Selection Criteria

An international committee will review the LOIs. The review process at the LOI stage is intended to select those proposals that best fit the program objectives and best address the LOI review criteria with an emphasis on the merit of the proposal. The review criteria are as follows:

Merit of the research proposal

  • Novelty of the proposed approach
  • Potential to be transformative and have high international impact
  • Potential to create new fields of research
  • Potential to extend and/or complement national and international work in the area
  • Appropriateness of the methods and approaches in terms of the research objectives
  • Feasibility of the research given the projected resources and timeline
  • Degree of integration across disciplines and with international collaborators
  • Anticipated outcomes and benefits to the wider community
  • How diversity and increased gender equity will be addressed in the project

Excellence of the applicants and complementarity of expertise

Potential for value-added training of highly qualified personnel

Full Proposals


Applicants who are invited to submit a full proposal will be given further instructions on submission details at the time of invitation.

Full Proposal Review Procedures and Selection Criteria

Full proposals will be reviewed through a rigorous independent peer review process, undertaken by a multidisciplinary international committee, to assess their eligibility, research merit and potential for benefits to the research community as well as to ensure that sound management and financial practices are implemented. Excellence in terms of the review criteria at the very highest of international standards must be demonstrated for funding to be awarded to the most meritorious proposal.

The applications will be reviewed using the following criteria. Please note that the descriptive phrases that follow the criteria below are not exhaustive.

Merit of the Research Proposal

Research Context and Originality

  • To what extent does the proposed research lead, extend and/or complement national and international work in the area?
  • To what extent does the proposed research reflect creative, original thinking?
  • To what extent could the proposed research have an impact beyond the field of biodiversity research?

Research Plans and Research Environment

  • How appropriate are the methods and approaches (including handling of data and resources) in terms of the research objectives?
  • How feasible is the research given the projected resources and timelines?
  • How suitable are the available facilities and equipment?


  • To what extent have the applicants identified appropriate deliverables in terms of their potential to have practical applicability to the research community in the long term?

Expected Benefits and Strategy for Realizing Benefits

  • How significant are the anticipated benefits described in the proposal?
  • How appropriate is the plan for access to, and dissemination of, the tools and methodologies developed?
  • Quality of the plan describing how the deliverables from the research will be transferred, disseminated, used, and/or applied to realize the benefits.
  • Quality of the plan for the maintenance and preservation of data.
  • How high is the potential for community impact and/or uptake, regardless of the type of dissemination plan proposed?
  • To what extent are likely end-users involved in the project and the strategy to realize benefits?

Management Plans and Expertise

  • How well does the management plan cover project governance, accountabilities of personnel, and processes for decision-making on research direction and strategy for realizing benefits?
  • How convincing is the management plan in terms of coordination of current and future partnerships?
  • How realistic is the project schedule?
  • To what extent do the project leaders have experience in managing projects with multidisciplinary teams involving research?

Budget and Expenditure Controls

  • How reasonable is the proposed budget in terms of the anticipated level of effort and deliverables?
  • To what extent does the proposal provide assurance that expenditures from a funded project would be closely and critically monitored?

Excellence of the applicants and complementarity of expertise

  • Excellence and significance of the proposed research team.
  • How appropriate is the expertise of the research team in terms of realizing the research goals?
  • How effectively will the project bring together expertise from complementary disciplines?
  • Extent of involvement and integration of Canadian government researchers.
  • Involvement and integration of other partners and/or international collaborators.

Potential for value-added training of highly qualified personnel

  • What is the potential for the initiative to achieve excellence in the training of highly qualified personnel?
  • What are the potential enhanced training opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral-level individuals, and other research personnel such as undergraduates, research associates and technicians, including potential for international experience?
  • How good are the plans to ensure that an adequate number of highly qualified personnel—both support personnel (e .g. technicians) and trainees (e.g. post-doctoral fellows)—are available to meet the needs of the proposed research through recruitment and/or training?

Use of Funds

Refer to the Use of Grant Funds section of the Tri-Agency Financial Administration Guide for details on eligible expenses.


Regular reporting will be required for this award. A scientific review committee will assess scientific progress annually. The review will provide information regarding the progress of the project according to the proposed timelines. The scientific review committee can also provide advice to the project team if it feels that changes to project milestones or direction are necessary. NSERC will use the scientific review committee’s report to determine whether funding for the project will be continued, reduced or terminated. Financial reports will also be reviewed annually.

Specific details on the format and schedule and other required information will be available at the time of award.


Discovery Frontiers
350 Albert Street
Ottawa, ON  K1A 1H5
Tel.: 613-947-5636