ERC Starting Grants for five Ghent University researchers - two of which for research in Africa!



Five Ghent University researchers will receive an ERC Starting Grant. This grant will allow them to expand their research group and conduct groundbreaking research.

The European Research Council (ERC) awarded 400 young researchers with a Starting Grant, including five researchers at Ghent University: Sven Rogge for the project STRAINSWITCH, Sara Pacchiarotti for the project CONGUBANGI, Charles DiSimone for the project Gandhāra Corpora, Tom Bultreys for the project FLOWSCOPY and Marijn Bauters for the project FORECAT. This makes us once again frontrunners among Belgian universities.


The new Starting Grant projects with a link to Africa

CONGUBANGI – Sara Pacchiarotti

The Congo-Ubangi watershed in the northern margins of the Congo rainforest is home to a complex mosaic of genealogically and structurally diverse languages spoken by small-size communities with different material cultures and subsistence specializations. Straddling the borders of three modern countries in Central Africa, i.e., Congo-Kinshasa, Congo-Brazzaville, and the Central African Republic, it is a major hotbed of linguistic, cultural, and genetic diversity with a deep history of human occupation. Despite the myriad of insights it could generate about language evolution and deep human past, it is poorly known due to difficulty of access and an astonishingly intricate configuration. CONGUBANGI will realize a breakthrough in our understanding of how linguistic diversity correlates with cultural and genetic diversity and why it originated and persisted in this specific ecoregion for millennia through an interdisciplinary approach involving linguistics, archaeology, and genetics. Understanding the genesis of a central area in the continent where mankind originated represents a unique opportunity to learn about our shared human history of evolution, migration, and diversification, and their impact on human language, a faculty unique among all forms of animal communication. Beyond research, CONGUBANGI will replicate world-wide efforts to preserve local linguistic diversity in a region where it is threatened to extinction by multiple uniformizing pressures, so that it can be made permanently available for posterity.


FORECAT – Marijn Bauters

The tropics host the most lush forests on Earth. Despite also growing on some of the poorest soils globally, tropical trees manage to mobilise the necessary nutrients and store them in their own biomass during a long growth process. For centuries, those nutrients in the biomass have been used in agriculture on poor soils through slash-and-burn. The forest is cut down and burned, some of the nutrients are lost, but another part remains in the form of ash, as a 'natural' fertiliser. If this happens only sporadically in a giant forest landscape, the losses are negligible and the process is quite sustainable. However, in Africa, where the population is set to quadruple in the next few decades, such shifting agriculture will be done on an increasingly large scale, as well as repeatedly. The net nutrient losses that will occur in the process will become much more substantial. Not only will this make it harder to maintain good yields in agriculture, but forest restoration will also be increasingly undermined by the ever-smaller residual nutrients.

In FORECAT, Marijn Bauters and his team aim to understand the future of forests in central Africa under pressure from expected population growth. The big question that FORECAT will answer is how land use can be organised as sustainably as possible from a biogeochemical perspective, especially under the growing pressure to also guarantee food security in the area.


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