The ReNature Research Group
The ReNature research group is one of Malta's most active research group working on nature-based solutions and ecosystem services and brings together a team of 12 team members working across the research-practice-communication interface. We are particularly interested in developing new approaches towards sustainability that are inspired and supported by nature and that lead to tangible benefits to communities and biodiversity and ecosystem services. Through our work we collaborate with stakeholders and practitioners from various sectors, and have acted as an expert in biodiversity and ecosystem science, urban ecology, agriculture and agri-environment, research and innovation, and science communication.
Ongoing research focuses on biodiversity and ecosystem services monitoring, and the development of the evidence base on the effectiveness of nature-based solutions for climate resilience and human well-being within the Mediterranean region.
Our research has received funding through the FP7, Horizon 2020, ARIMNET2, the European Commission, the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST) and the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR).
Funding & Projects
GO GREEN: Resilient Optimal Urban natural, Technological and Environmental Solutions (Horizon 2020)
The objective of the Horizon 2020 project GOGREEN ROUTES (GO GREEN: Resilient Optimal Urban natural, Technological and Environmental Solutions) is to position European cities as world ambassadors of urban sustainability. Our inspirational approach shifts the focus of nature-based solutions (NbS) towards the co-benefits to multidimensional health-termed 360-Health. GOGREEN ROUTES transdisciplinary consortium will pioneer a unique approach augmenting nature-based solutions, urban design with the goal of fostering a positive human-nature relationship, flourishing nature connectedness and promoting citizen engagement through digital, educational and behavioural innovation.
GOGREEN ROUTES components focus on nature-based enterprise (GROW), sustainable physical activity (MOVE), digital, cultural (FEEL) and knowledge innovation (KNOW). GOGREEN ROUTES fosters mental health and well-being by optimising human-nature interactions for all citizens. These innovations will increase the uptake and acceptability of nature-based solutions across “Cultivating Cities” (Burgas, Lahti, Limerick, Tallinn, Umea & Versailles), “Seed Cities” (Munich, Murcia region & Malta) and a “Cross-Pollination Network: (Beijing, Mexico, & Tblisi).
An urban well-being lab, based on the living lab methodology will couple participatory approaches with the Big Data analyses. To advance knowledge, best practice and dissemination GOGREEN ROUTES will cluster with other Horizon 2020 projects including those involving our partners. In addition, linking all open-sourced data to the OPPLA and ThinkNature Hubs, delivering online resource (e.g. Urban 360-Health Toolkit, MOOC’s) and empowering citizens in an iterative process of co-creation will ensure perpetuation beyond the end of the project. This novel approach, coupled with the high capacity of the consortium, makes GOGREEN ROUTES an exciting prospect.
Promoting research excellence in nature-based solutions for innovation, sustainable economic growth and human well-being in Malta (Coordinator, Horizon 2020)
The challenge of putting together socio-economic demands and environmental challenges is particularly felt in Malta, which has the highest population density in the EU, rapid urbanisation and economic growth. A central idea in the use of nature-based solutions is that of addressing the societal challenges of fostering innovation, job and business opportunities, and social cohesion whilst at the same time creating net positive effects on biodiversity, the environment and on human well-being.
The Horizon 2020 project ReNature aims to establish and implement a nature-based solutions research strategy for Malta with a vision to promote research and innovation to develop solutions that improve human well-being whilst tackling environmental challenges. The strategy will be complemented by a newly-developed research cluster to act on it, with a vision to stimulate both scientific excellence and innovation capacity towards achieving the goals of sustainable development. More specifically, the objectives of the ReNature project are to:
1. strengthen collaborations across the science-policy interface and stimulate common research projects and information flow among the different players;
2. provide opportunities for capacity-building to enable Maltese entities to collaborate and link up with third parties for the development of excellent scientific research in the nature-based solutions sector;
3. develop evidence-base to inform practitioners and policy-makers on landscape and urban planning as key components of green infrastructure;
4. carry out a knowledge synthesis for policy-making and share a developed, evidence-based compendium, consisting of research data and peer-reviewed publications from collaborative research, in open access repositories;
5. extend the partnership by clustering with ongoing and future projects on nature-based solutions at European scale, and
6. provide solutions and alternatives to national authorities, policy-makers and businesses on the implementation of nature-based solutions.
Mapping habitat suitability of the honey bee (Apis Mellifera)
The MAHONEY project aims at studying the relation between factors influencing honey production and the incidence of fraud in honey production, with the aim of defining a strategy to better detect, map and counter fraud. It is based on a spatially-explicit approach to detect honey fraud by high resolution mapping of the environmental conditions and habitat suitability for honey bee and by validating the model predictions with chemical analyses of honey samples. The proposal is exploratory and goes beyond traditional intra-field/discipline approaches. The starting scientific hypothesis should be reformulated in the sense the hypothesis should contemplate all possible correlations between the suitability of the environment for honey production and the number of fraud incidents. Recognising this, the project has a clear potential impact on societal and policy challenges as the outcome may contribute to the definition of a more efficient strategy for sampling for inspection.
Land system dynamics in the Mediterranean basin across scales as relevant indicator for species diversity and local food systems (ARIMNET2)
The ARIMNET2 project DIVERCROP project aims to highlight interactions between current dynamics of the Mediterranean agricultural practices, species diversity and local food systems at multiple spatial scales. The main assumptions are:
That the current land use dynamics in Mediterranean area may enhance, in many cases, situations of land use pattern diversity (inside agricultural areas with changes in agricultural practices, in perirurban situations with the competition between agricultural and urban uses or in semi-natural areas used by extensive farming systems), and this diversity is an indicator of places where, on one hand, evolutions of the couple ecosystems/agricultural systems could be the foundations of a new sustainable agriculture and, one other hand there is an ability to develop local food systems (an homogenous area of monospecific agriculture isn’t usually in favor of the new farming systems integration).
An assessment of the land use diversity processes and related changes occurring on the Mediterranean area (e.g.intensification, extensification, urbanization and land abandonment) and their drivers (geographical, agronomical and socio-economic) will be carried out. From this framework, we will evaluate how these changes impact the agricultural and species diversity at different spatial scales, and how this measure of diversity allows to locate areas that should potentially experience an enhancement of local food systems.
Implementing nature based solutions for creating a resourceful circular city (COST Action)
Resource depletion, climate change and degradation of ecosystems are challenges faced by cities worldwide and will increase if cities do not adapt. In order to tackle those challenges, it is necessary to transform our cities into sustainable systems using a holistic approach. One element in achieving this transition is the implementation of nature-based solutions (NBS). They can provide a range of ecosystem services beneficial for the urban biosphere such as regulation of micro-climates, flood prevention, water treatment, food provision and more. However, most NBS are implemented serving only one single purpose. Adopting the concept of circular economy by combining different types of services and returning resources to the city, would increase the benefits gained for urban areas. This COST Action aims to establish a network testing the hypothesis that: “A circular flow system that implements NBS for managing nutrients and resources within the urban biosphere will lead to a resilient, sustainable and healthy urban environment”. To tackle this challenge five working groups (WGs) give their contribution on closing the resource cycle within the urban biosphere. The five WGs will deal with the built environment, urban water, resource recovery, urban farming and transformation tools connecting the WGs and the socio-economic impact.
The network of researches, companies and stakeholders spread over Europe and near neighboring countries brings together a large diversity of disciplines and is therefore well equipped taking holistic approach on embedding NBS within circular economy.
Enhancing Resilience of urban ecosystems through green infrastructure (European Commission)
EnRoute stands for Enhancing Resilience of urban ecosystems through green infrastructure. EnRoute is a project of the European Commission in the framework of the EU Biodiversity Strategy and the Green Infrastructure Strategy. EnRoute provides scientific knowledge of how urban ecosystems can support urban planning at different stages of policy and for various spatial scales and how to help policy-making for sustainable cities. It aims to promote the application of urban green infrastructure at local level and delivers guidance on the creation, management and governance of urban green infrastructure. Importantly, it illustrates how collaboration between and across different policy levels can lead to concrete green infrastructure policy setting.
Enhancing ecosystem services mapping for policy and decision making (Horizon 2020)
Mapping and assessment of ecosystems and their services (ES) are core to the EU Biodiversity (BD) Strategy. They are essential if we are to make informed decisions. Action 5 sets the requirement for an EU-wide knowledge base designed to be: a primary data source for developing Europe’s green infrastructure; resource to identify areas for ecosystem restoration; and, a baseline against which the goal of ‘no net loss of BD and ES’ can be evaluated. In response to these requirements, the Horizon 2020 project ESMERALDA aims to deliver a flexible methodology to provide the building blocks for pan-European and regional assessments. The work will ensure the timely delivery to EU member states in relation to Action 5 of the BD Strategy, supporting the needs of assessments in relation to the requirements for planning, agriculture, climate, water and nature policy. This methodology will build on existing ES projects and databases (e.g. MAES, OpenNESS, OPERAs, national studies), the Millennium Assessment (MA) and TEEB. ESMERALDA will identify relevant stakeholders and take stock of their requirements at EU, national and regional levels. The objective of ESMERALDA is to share experience through an active process of dialogue and knowledge co-creation that will enable participants to achieve the Action 5 aims. The mapping approach proposed will integrate biophysical, social and economic assessment techniques. Flexibility will be achieved by the creation of a tiered methodology that will encompass both simple (Tier 1) and more complex (Tier 3) approaches. The work will exploit expert- and land cover-based methods, existing ES indicator data and more complex ES models. As a result the outcomes will be applicable in different contexts. The strength of the ESMERALDA consortium lies in its ability to make solutions for mapping and assessment problems available to stakeholders from the start of the project, because our expertise allows us to build on existing research projects and data sharing systems.
Sustainable pollination in Europe (COST Acion)
SUPER-B is a COST Action that will bring together scientific and societal communities involved in the conservation and sustainable management of ecosystem services mediated by pollinators. >70 of our crops need insects for optimal pollination; these include many fruits, nuts, oil crops, fibres and vegetables with some producing no yield without insect pollination. The direct economic value of crop pollination by insects in the EU is >14 billion euro annually. Moreover, >80 of wild plant species benefit from animal pollinators for fruit and seed production, making pollination a key service for ecosystem and biodiversity maintenance.
SUPER-B will combine scientific evidence (existing and new knowledge) and social feedback for developing conservation strategies for pollinators. Specifically, the Action will (1) identify the role of insect pollination in agriculture and other ecosystems; (2) clarify best practices for mitigation of pollination loss, and (3) compare and contrast important drivers of pollinator loss (wild and managed species). SUPER-B will contribute towards maintaining natural ecosystems and achieving sustainable use of pollinators in agricultural production. Its results are relevant to all European countries and will be disseminated to a wide community of beneficiaries (scientists, farmers, beekeepers, industry, policy-makers, NGOs and the public).
Strategies for organic and low-input integrated breeding and management (FP7)
The overall objective of SOLIBAM is to develop specific and novel breeding approaches integrated with management practices to improve the performance, quality, sustainability and stability of crops adapted to organic and low-input systems. The project is founded on the concept of diversity. Our research hypothesis is that developing diversity at all levels is the best strategy for improving the capacity for crops to adapt to fluctuating environmental conditions and for increasing yields and yield stability in organic and low-input systems. Diversity is also a characteristic of the consortium members, who bring a wide range of competencies and scientific approaches, farming systems experience, climatic conditions and cultural backgrounds. The partners come from 12 countries, representing many different regions from the North of Europe to Africa and our consortium represents most of the disciplines needed to explore and sustain diversity in the field.
Other Research Initiatives/Grants
Coordinating Lead Author. Climate and Environmental Change in the Mediterranean Basin: Current Situation and Risks for the Future. 1st Mediterranean Assessment Report
Ecosystem Assessment Mentoring Scheme Grant. The Sub Global Assessment (SGA) Network Secretariat, UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge, UK.
MC Member, Biogreenhouse: Towards a sustainable and productive EU organic greenhouse horticulture. COST Action FA1105.
Visiting researcher at Biobest N.V., Westerlo, Belgium. Adult feeding in Tuta absoluta and its parasitoid Necremnus artynes.
Agrobiodiversity Ph.D. grant from the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca), Italy.