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EU launches major new initiative to protect biodiversity in EU's tropical regions

The European Commission launched today NET-BIOME a major new research initiative to help preserve the extraordinary biodiversity of the EU's tropical and subtropical regions.

The EU's outermost regions (ORs) and overseas territories (OCTs) are among the richest reservoirs of species and ecosystems in the world, encompassing 5 of the 34 biodiversity "hotspots" of the planet and spanning three different oceans. As elsewhere, these unique ecosystems are often at risk from increased interactions with human activities.

The objective of this ERA-NET action, which brings together 11 research organisations and regional authorities from the tropical and subtropical regions of 5 Member States (France, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, UK), is to improve the collection and sharing of information, identify strategic research priorities, develop common policies, and launch joint research activities among these regions. Providing an effective collaboration mechanism between continental Europe, outlying regions, and international organisations, NET-BIOME will play a key role in ensuring that European research fully meets its responsibilities towards global biodiversity.

Europe: an exceptional source of biodiversity…facing global challenges

Europe's overseas regions host an extraordinary diversity of ecosystems. European marine areas encompass more than 10% of the world's coral reefs, and over 20% of the world's lagoons. The EU has, with French Guyana, one of 15 low-fragmented forests remaining in the world. The Canary Islands host over 12.000 species of plants, birds and species. New Caledonia alone counts as high a number of terrestrial endemic species as the whole of continental Europe.

As elsewhere in the World, Europe's tropical and subtropical regions face growing environmental challenges. Biodiversity is often threatened by a combination of fragmentation and loss of habitat, the introduction of new species, climate change, and increasing interactions between human activities and ecosystems.

A key role for research

Along with the privilege of hosting such exceptional diversity, Europe has unique responsibilities in preserving it. An important part of the world's natural heritage, this biodiversity also represents a key asset for the economic, social and cultural development of these regions. EU research has a crucial role to play in managing such changes

Responding to such concerns, local authorities have funded a number of R&D programmes aiming to reconcile environment conservation and economic development. However, such efforts have often been hindered in the past due to their lack of integration, underfunding, and poor access to research data and facilities.

NET-BIOME: strengthening European and international cooperation on biodiversity

NET-BIOME provides a concrete answer to such challenges. Gathering research institutes from continental EU and outermost areas, as well as regional and local authorities (such as the Regional Council of La Réunion, the project leader, New Caledonia, the Canary Islands, the Azores, the Antilles, and the Cayman Islands), NET-BIOME will provide an effective collaboration mechanism to improve research coordination and develop common activities in response to clearly identified needs.

The project will allow: identification and prioritisation of research areas; better coordination of EU, national, and regional funding; improved access to information; more efficient sharing of research infrastructures; improved socioeconomic valorisation of biodiversity; enhanced training and transregional mobility of researchers. Fully integrated in the ERA, this ERA-NET initiative will also with a strong tie-up with research projects in third countries and international organisations in the field of biodiversity and sustainable development. It will pave the way for a forthcoming joint European programme of transnational research activities on tropical and subtropical diversity.

A cross-cutting, multidisciplinary, multi-region and multi-partner initiative, the NET-BIOME ERA-NET project illustrates how the EU's outermost regions can successfully take the lead in the shaping and coordination of research strategies for the benefit of the whole of Europe.

Patrick Vittet-Philippe | alfa
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