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A University of Bologna Researcher is Among the Italian Finalists for the Frontiers Planet Prize

Thanks to his groundbreaking study on the Alpha diversity of plants, Francesco Maria Sabatini is among the three Italian finalists for the prestigious prize awarded by the Frontiers Research Foundation to the best research on sustainability

Photo: F.M. Sabatini

Francesco Maria Sabatini, a researcher at the Department of Biological, Geological, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Bologna, is one of the three Italians selected to compete in the final round of the Frontiers Planet Prize. His study, published in Nature Communications, has enabled the creation of a map identifying Alpha diversity, namely the number of vascular plant species that can be observed in delimited areas of various sizes (10 sqm, 100 sqm, 1000 sqm, 1ha) scattered across the planet.

Promoted by the Swiss Frontiers Research Foundation, the Frontiers Planet Prize aims to support the best scientific research oriented towards sustainability and the protection of the terrestrial ecosystem, offering three prizes of one million francs each.

The International Science Council (ISC) -National Representing Body for Italy has chosen Sabatini and two other Italian colleagues to represent the Country in the final round. An international jury, composed of the hundred most experienced scientists in the field of sustainability and chaired by Professor Johan Rockström, will select a national champion for each participating country on Earth Day in April. The three international champions who will receive the prizes will be selected at the final ceremony of the Frontiers Planet Prize in June.

The Alpha diversity map, obtained through a machine-learning algorithm calibrated on sPlot, a collaborative database containing information on more than two million vegetation surveys, is the result of the work of a team of 50 researchers from 27 countries coordinated by Sabatini.

The study identified the main climatic, historical, and spatial determinants of Alpha diversity on a global scale. Not only did it uncover the hotspots of Alpha diversity, namely the areas of the Earth hosting the ecosystems with the highest number of plant species, but italso defined the spatial scale at which this diversity is expressed. This has crucial implications for the conservation of plant biodiversity. Understanding its spatial distribution provides the foundation for delineating the most effective strategies for preservation.

Among the areas with the strongest Alpha diversity, Sabatini has identified the forest steppe of Eastern Europe and Siberia, East Asia, Borneo and New Guinea, the eastern coast of Australia, the western Congo Basin, eastern Madagascar, the Andean-Amazonian foothills, the Atlantic Forest of South America, and the Appalachian Mountains.