The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA, 2005) has categorised global changes affecting biodiversity into the ‘big five’: land use change, climate change, invasions, exploitation, and pollution. However, much of biodiversity and global change is driven by feedback mechanisms that take place at spatial and temporal scales that are smaller than those currently incorporated in global models. It is our underlying presumption that treating different phenomena, such as the ‘big five’, in isolation is unlikely to provide a coherent understanding of global change and biodiversity. In contrast to previous research, we suggest establishing an approach for predicting the future state of the environment that is based on three relevant mechanisms of change, namely interactions, feedbacks, and scaling. These presumptions result in the following core hypothesis for the URPP GCB, which guides all projects incorporated into it:
Drivers affecting global change and biodiversity vary in their importance, magnitude and size among ecosystems and regions. Improved capability to predict the consequences of changes in drivers will aid improved prediction of the state of the environment, by using a latitudinal gradient approach with focus on interactions, feedbacks, and scale.
The URPP GCB establish this research agenda through eight interdisciplinary projects (in the first phase). Their uniting link is the analytical framing of the three mechanisms of change, i.e. interactions (e.g., biodiversity and ecosystem functioning relationships as well as human-environment interactions), feedbacks, and scaling. Within this framework, each individual sub-project focuses predominantly, but not exclusively on one of the three mechanisms of change.