Abstract collage of science-related imagery

Systematics and Biodiversity Science Cluster (SBS)

View guidelines

NSF 24-543

Important information for proposers

All proposals must be submitted in accordance with the requirements specified in this funding opportunity and in the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) that is in effect for the relevant due date to which the proposal is being submitted. It is the responsibility of the proposer to ensure that the proposal meets these requirements. Submitting a proposal prior to a specified deadline does not negate this requirement.

Supports research and methods development that advances understanding of the diversity, systematics, distribution and evolutionary history of extant and extinct organisms.

Supports research and methods development that advances understanding of the diversity, systematics, distribution and evolutionary history of extant and extinct organisms.


This Systematics and Biodiversity Science (SBS) cluster Program Description is valid for all proposals submitted in response to the Division of Environmental Biology core solicitation.

The Systematics and Biodiversity Science (SBS) cluster supports research that advances understanding of the diversity, systematics, and evolutionary history of extant or extinct organisms in natural systems. This research addresses fundamental questions in biodiversity, taxonomy, and phylogenetics, such as: What kinds of organisms exist (or existed)? How are they related? How can phylogenetic history shed light on evolutionary patterns and processes in nature? Example topics include: expeditionary biodiversity research and discovery; identification and classification of extinct and/or extant organisms; and comparative phylogenetics.

The SBS cluster seeks to fund projects that are transformative - that is, those that innovatively and fundamentally transform our approaches to analyzing and understanding global biodiversity, its origins, distribution, and evolutionary history. The cluster places a high value on integrative and holistic approaches to systematics research and training - i.e., those approaches and projects that integrate across all the components within the cluster (biodiversity discovery, organismal biology, taxonomy, phylogenetics, and evolution) and that train highly skilled modern systematists who can conduct research across the entire spectrum of these activities. Proposals that give specific examples of how they will broaden the skill set of PIs, students and postdocs are encouraged, as are those that describe how they will build capacity among traditionally underrepresented groups.

The SBS core program supports all aspects of biodiversity science, including expeditionary and exploratory research to advance the discovery, identification, description, classification, and cataloguing of the world's biodiversity. These investigations should be focused at the organismal level and within an evolutionary context, but may take a primarily clade-based (i.e., regional to planetary species-level inventories for a particular taxonomic group), guild-based (i.e., focused on ecological assemblages, common habitats, or host-symbiont assemblages), or geographically-based approach. Research that addresses significant questions about organismal evolution using phylogenetic approaches, investigates the origins of biodiversity, and resolves the relationships among taxa across the hierarchy of life are also supported within the cluster. All "tree-based" approaches to studies of organismal evolution, including tree-building at all taxonomic levels, tree-based studies of character evolution, and tree-enabled comparative biology fall within this program. Projects that build, refine, and/or use existing phylogenies to study biogeographic distributions; temporal or spatial patterns of evolution; evolution of morphological, physiological, developmental, behavioral and molecular traits; adaptive or non adaptive radiations, or other macro-evolutionary patterns are appropriate. For macro-evolutionary questions, the collection and integration of new and existing data layers (geographic, environmental, organismal, etc.) within a broad phylogenetic context is required. Additionally, proposals that advance systematics theory and/or develop new methods of phylogenetic analysis, comparative approaches, or biodiversity analysis are also appropriate.

Proposals should include well-explicated methods of phylogenetic analysis, justification for targeting specific taxonomic groups or areas, explanation of proposed data sampling approaches, well-justified phylogenetic comparative methods if appropriate, and plans for broad dissemination of results. Rapid dissemination of data into public biodiversity databases is expected.

The Systematics and Biodiversity core program also accepts two special categories of proposals, having specific goals: 1) Advancing Revisionary Taxonomy and Systematics (ARTS, see Dear Colleague Letter NSF 17-139), and 2) Poorly Sampled and Unknown Taxa (PurSUiT, see Dear Colleague letter NSF 20-059).

Special Category: Advancing Revisionary Taxonomy and Systematics (ARTS)

The SBS cluster encourages the submission of proposals to conduct species-level taxonomic work and revisionary monographic research on particular groups of organisms, and to develop predictive classifications for those organisms. A major goal of this activity is to address the "taxonomic impediment" in biodiversity studies, that is, the scope of undescribed biodiversity. We encourage proposals that will develop novel and transformative approaches to address these challenges and that will help prepare future generations of broadly trained organismal biologists and systematists to pursue these approaches. Successful proposals will simultaneously provide innovative research to accelerate taxonomic documentation and syntheses, as well as broad systematic training.  Titles of proposals emphasizing such revisionary and monographic syntheses should be prefaced with “ARTS:". Please see NSF 17-139 for additional details.

Special Category: Poorly Sampled and Unknown Taxa (PurSUiT)

Proposals submitted to this category should address expeditionary and exploratory research on extant or extinct taxa in natural environments, and aim to advance the discovery, identification, description, classification, and cataloguing of the world's unknown extant and/or extinct biodiversity. Research projects must address compelling biodiversity discovery questions and must entail a primarily clade-based approach (e.g., regional to global, or planetary species-level inventories for particular taxonomic groups). Priority will be given to innovative projects that fill significant gaps in biodiversity knowledge and integrate taxon information within an evolutionary or taxonomic framework. Titles of proposals submitted to the Poorly Sampled and Unknown Taxa track should be prefaced with "PurSUiT:". Please see NSF 20-059 for additional details. 

All proposals that incorporate fieldwork or new collections should include the following: well-documented plans for fieldwork coordination and permitting, vouchering of new collections, specimen preparation, long-term specimen storage regimes that are openly accessible, specimen identifications and descriptions, georeferencing, data modeling and databasing, and rapid dissemination of data into public biodiversity databases, such as phylogenetic trees to Open Tree of Life, specimen data to iDigBio, etc. Dynamic (versus static) links between these data (e.g., between vouchered collections data and GenBank sequences) are encouraged.

The SBS cluster also funds proposals submitted in response to the CAREER, RCN, MCA and OPUS solicitations. See the appropriate solicitations for more details.

The SBS cluster also considers conference proposals, requests for supplemental funding, and RAPID, EAGER or RAISE applications, all of which should be submitted following the standard guidelines directly to the PAPPG.

NOTE:  Research on biodiversity and organismal evolution is supported in various ways across the Biological Sciences Directorate, and the Systematics and Biodiversity Science Cluster frequently co-reviews projects with other clusters or programs.  Research projects that might be more appropriately targeted to programs other than Systematics and Biodiversity Science include:  demography and evolutionary processes below the species level; diversity of genes and genomes, or form and function, without a phylogenetic, comparative, or organismal focus; functional diversity at the ecosystem level. For proposals in these areas, please consult the Directorate for Biological Sciences website to identify programs whose priorities seem to be a good match for your research. You are always encouraged to contact a program officer for guidance about the most appropriate program for your particular research.

Program contacts

Chris Balakrishnan
cbalakri@nsf.gov (703) 292-2331 BIO/DEB
Maureen M. Kearney
mkearney@nsf.gov (703) 292-8239 BIO/DEB
Carolyn J. Ferguson
cferguso@nsf.gov (703) 292-2689 BIO/DEB
Matthew Fujita
mfujita@nsf.gov (703) 292-7814 BIO/DEB
Cathie Aime
maime@nsf.gov (703) 292-4572 BIO/DEB

Awards made through this program

Browse projects funded by this program
Map of recent awards made through this program