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Scientists in Africa and Eastern Europe can now seek support from a new fund to help them research major challenges, such as climate change, desertification and biodiversity loss.

The British Ecological Society's (BES) 'capacity building for ecology fund', launched on Monday (16 January), will develop ecological science in the two regions by helping create national and regional associations. 

"There are botanical and zoological societies in some African countries, but only a couple of ecological societies," says the society's science policy manager, Nick Dusic. "The fund is to help African ecologists fill this gap where they feel it is needed."

The BES says scientific societies play a key role in research and development by setting professional standards and promoting exchanges of scientific information.

It has committed £500,000 (US$880,000) for the first five years. This will be used, in part, to bring scientists together, and to provide administrative support to newly-formed associations in their first couple of years.

Dusic told SciDev.Net that funding would be for a fixed-term only, and that associations will need to become self-financing in the long run. The deadline for applications to the first round of funding is 21 April.

"This is a unique and timely opportunity to build ecological networks in developing countries that will allow ecologists there to tackle some of the world's most pressing environmental problems, such as climate change, soil erosion and invasive species," said BES president John Lawton.

The BES is the largest society of its kind in Europe, with more than 5,000 members, mostly university-based researchers.

Full details and an application form for the Building Capacity for Ecology Fund are available at