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Call key data

Better understanding of routes of exposure and toxicological and ecological impacts of chemical pollution on terrestrial biodiversity

Funding Program

Horizon Europe - Cluster 6 - Destination 1: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

Call number




28.03.2023 17:00

Funding rate


Call budget

€ 22,000,000.00

Estimated EU contribution per project

€ 5,500,000.00

Link to the call

Link to the submission

Call content

short description

Successful proposals are expected to assess the effects and impact of chemical pollutants, in particular the most dangerous substances from agriculture, on the condition of the biodiversity and ecosystems in natural environment (this may include environmental and host associated microbiomes) and consequently on human health, and identify preventive and mitigation measures.

Call objectives

According to IPBES global assessment report, pollution is one of the five main direct drivers of biodiversity loss. This topic focuses on chemical pollution, which has been increasing in the last decades with key differences by region and by type of pollution. Quantitative assessments include systematically monitored variables with certain emissions into the atmosphere, water bodies and terrestrial systems from industrial activities and households. However, pollution has and is still changing not only in quantitative but also qualitative terms and the monitoring of many dangerous substances, including ones of emerging concern, and knowledge on the way they impact biodiversity and ecosystem services are missing. This topic aims at better understanding the routes of exposure and toxicological and ecological impacts of chemical pollution (excluding industrial contamination) on terrestrial biodiversity and ecosystems (Area A). According to the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030, pressures include the release of nutrients, chemical pesticides, pharmaceuticals, hazardous chemicals, urban and industrial wastewater and other waste including litter and plastics.

The intensification of the loss of biodiversity in the EU is strongly influenced by the intensification of agriculture, through the high application of fertilizers and pesticides, changes in the species and management of crops, as well as mowing and grazing regimes, and the introduction of new production technologies. Currently, the excessive use of pesticides causes a reduction in the population of, among others, pollinating insects. To support the long-term sustainability of both nature and farming, the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030 works in tandem with the farm to fork strategy. The Commission has committed with both strategies to take action to reduce by 50% the overall use of - and the risk from – chemical pesticides by 2030 and reduce by 50% the use of more hazardous pesticides by 2030 in order to reverse the alarming decline of farmland biodiversity.

Successful proposals are expected to assess the effects and impact of chemical pollutants, in particular the most dangerous substances from agriculture, on the condition of the biodiversity and ecosystems in natural environment (this may include environmental and host associated microbiomes) and consequently on human health, and identify preventive and mitigation measures. It is important to pay special attention to the fact that the reduction in the population of pollinating insects caused, inter alia, by the excessive use of pesticides in EU agriculture also contributes to reducing the amount of food for birds, reducing the regulation of pests, diseases and invasive alien species. More knowledge is also needed on additional negative impacts from other contaminants of emerging concern, including pharmaceuticals such as hormones and antibiotics, veterinary products and persistent e.g., bio-accumulative substances.

In the context of the EU pollinators’ initiative and the pesticide legislative framework, the EU has increased efforts in the last decade to address this problem. However, knowledge gaps still hinder development and implementation of essential testing methods for a scientifically robust risk assessment of pesticides on wild bees and other wild pollinating insects. This topic will provide a critical contribution to address those knowledge gaps as identified by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Commission (Area B) and thereby support the implementation of the EFSA guidance on the risk assessment of plant protection products on bees (Apis mellifera, Bombus spp. and solitary bees) and the efforts on broadening the risk assessment safeguards to other wild pollinator species.

Proposals should address Area A or Area B as follows. The Area should be clearly indicated on the application.

Area A: better understanding the routes of exposure of the wild fauna and flora to chemical pollution

Successful proposals should:

  • Choose case studies, based on an analysis of chemical contaminations from an environmental history perspective, with representative species on which analysis will be undertaken. Addressing trophic chains is encouraged,
  • Develop a method to establish the routes of contamination with chemicals. Priority should be given to cases with potential contamination with chemical pesticides and their metabolites; contaminants of emerging concern, including pharmaceuticals such as hormones and antibiotics, veterinary products and persistent e.g., bio-accumulative substances, SVHC (Substance of Very High Concern) and emerging pollutants. Other substances in particular micro- and nano-plastics are not excluded. Existing contaminations of the environment (legacy) especially from pesticides should also be considered. However industrial contamination is not in the scope of this topic,
  • Establish the routes of contamination of the chosen representative species with chemicals, in the case studies,
  • Assess the risks resulting from such contaminations for species, for ecosystems and for the local environment, including development of effect-based approach to consider mixture effects and synergies,
  • In particular, establish models to link chemical ecotoxicity stress to damages on (a) genetic diversity, (b) functional diversity, and (c) ecosystem services,
  • Extrapolate to provide an assessment of risks associated with chemical contaminations of terrestrial wild biodiversity at a larger scale,
  • Explore prevention and mitigation measures.

Targets groups for this Area are notably regulatory bodies, farmers and other land managers organisations, civil society, local and regional decision –makers.

Successful proposals are expected to cooperate with relevant projects supported by the mission “A Soil Deal for Europe".

Area B: pollinators and pesticides

Successful proposals should:

  • Characterise sources and routes of pesticide exposure in the key pollinator groups (wild bees, butterflies, hoverflies and moths),
  • Investigate sensitivity of pollinators to pesticides and identify for each pollinator group sensitive species that: i) are suitable as test organisms in the risk assessment and ii) require safeguards that would indirectly protect other species within the same group (“umbrella effect”),
  • Improve prediction of the toxicity endpoints, toxic units for chemicals and data poor compounds (e.g., Quantitative structure-activity relationship (QSAR) models),
  • Develop toxicokinetic and toxicodynamic data and models for single and multiple chemicals,
  • Generate combined toxicity data (lethal and sublethal effects) of multiple chemicals, improving the availability of data in particular for: i) chronic combined toxicity that would make it possible to identify potential interactions that may lead to deviation from dose addition (potentiation, synergism) and ii) sublethal effects.
  • Investigate synergistic effects of typical combinations of pesticides (e.g., based on residue data),
  • Devise and test monitoring schemes for establishing the level of contamination of pollen/nectar/water/plant matrices/soil that can support benchmarking in a predictive risk assessment, development of risk indicators and a system-based risk assessment,
  • Develop an open source curated database on pollinators and the use of pesticides which would include data and information on: i) exposure and hazard, ii) lethal and sublethal effects, toxicokinetics as well as other stressors (e.g., other chemicals, nutrition, etc.) that could amplify the adverse effects through interaction with pesticides,
  • Develop methodologies for risk assessment in open-source tools including toxic units approaches using lethal and sublethal effects as well as validated in silico models applying dose addition as the default model or models integrating synergistic effects,
  • Develop population models and landscape modelling for the risk assessment of multiple chemicals in pollinators with an aim to integrate hazard and exposure information,
  • Develop environmental scenarios for the risk assessment of pollinators that takes into consideration different landscape characteristics and conditions.

Proposals should earmark the necessary resources for cooperation and networking activities. Collaboration with the European partnership on biodiversity Biodiversa+ should be explored, as needed. They should use existing platforms and information sharing mechanisms notably the EC Knowledge Centre for Biodiversity.

This topic should involve the effective contribution of Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) disciplines.

International cooperation is encouraged.

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Expected results

In line with the European Green Deal and in particular with the objectives of the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030, the EU zero pollution action plan and the EU pollinators initiative, projects results will contribute to the following impact of destination “biodiversity and ecosystem services”: “Understand and address direct drivers of biodiversity decline…”.

Project results are expected to contribute to all of the following expected outcomes:

  • Routes of exposure, linked to ecosystem and biodiversity dynamics to chemicals are better understood,
  • Issues raised by the contamination of biodiversity in the natural environment are better known, including risks linked to existing contaminations (legacy), chemicals of emerging concern and accumulations in nature,
  • Environmental fate of new chemicals of emerging concern is better understood,
  • Toxicological and ecological impacts of contaminants are better understood and risk assessments for relevant highly exposed species are strengthened,
  • Prevention and mitigation measures are identified and developed.

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Eligibility Criteria

Regions / countries for funding

EU Member States, Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT)
Moldova (Moldova), Albania (Shqipëria), Armenia (Հայաստան), Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosna i Hercegovina / Босна и Херцеговина), Faeroes (Føroyar / Færøerne), Georgia (საქართველო), Iceland (Ísland), Israel (ישראל / إِسْرَائِيل), Kosovo (Kosova/Kosovë / Косово), Montenegro (Црна Гора), Morocco (المغرب), North Macedonia (Северна Македонија), Norway (Norge), Serbia (Srbija/Сpбија), Tunisia (تونس /Tūnis), Türkiye, Ukraine (Україна), United Kingdom

eligible entities

EU Body, Education and training institution, International organization, Natural Person, Non-Profit Organisation (NPO) / Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Other, Private institution, incl. private company (private for profit), Public Body (national, regional and local; incl. EGTCs), Research Institution incl. University, Small and medium-sized enterprise (SME)

Mandatory partnership


Project Partnership

To be eligible for funding, applicants must be established in one of the following countries:

  • the Member States of the European Union, including their outermost regions
  • the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) linked to the Member States
  • third countries associated to Horizon Europe - see list of particpating countries

Only legal entities forming a consortium are eligible to participate in actions provided that the consortium includes, as beneficiaries, three legal entities independent from each other and each established in a different country as follows:

  • at least one independent legal entity established in a Member State; and
  • at least two other independent legal entities, each established in different Member States or Associated Countries.

Any legal entity, regardless of its place of establishment, including legal entities from non-associated third countries or international organisations (including international European research organisations) is eligible to participate (whether it is eligible for funding or not), provided that the conditions laid down in the Horizon Europe Regulation have been met, along with any other conditions laid down in the specific call topic.

A ‘legal entity’ means any natural or legal person created and recognised as such under national law, EU law or international law, which has legal personality and which may, acting in its own name, exercise rights and be subject to obligations, or an entity without legal personality.

Specific cases:

  • Affiliated entities — Affiliated entities (i.e. entities with a legal or capital link to a beneficiary which participate in the action with similar rights and obligations to the beneficiaries, but which do not sign the grant agreement and therefore do not become beneficiaries themselves) are allowed, if they are eligible for participation and funding.
  • Associated partners — Associated partners (i.e. entities which participate in the action without signing the grant agreement, and without the right to charge costs or claim contributions) are allowed, subject to any conditions regarding associated partners set out in the specific call conditions.
  • Entities without legal personality — Entities which do not have legal personality under their national law may exceptionally participate, provided that their representatives have the capacity to undertake legal obligations on their behalf, and offer guarantees to protect the EU’s financial interests equivalent to those offered by legal persons.
  • EU bodies — Legal entities created under EU law including decentralised agencies may be part of the consortium, unless provided for otherwise in their basic act.
  • Joint Research Centre (‘JRC’)— Where provided for in the specific call conditions, applicants may include in their proposals the possible contribution of the JRC but the JRC will not participate in the preparation and submission of the proposal. Applicants will indicate the contribution that the JRC could bring to the project based on the scope of the topic text. After the evaluation process, the JRC and the consortium selected for funding may come to an agreement on the specific terms of the participation of the JRC. If an agreement is found, the JRC may accede to the grant agreement as beneficiary requesting zero funding or participate as an associated partner, and would accede to the consortium as a member.
  • Associations and interest groupings — Entities composed of members (e.g. European research infrastructure consortia (ERICs)) may participate as ‘sole beneficiaries’ or ‘beneficiaries without legal personality’. However, if the action is in practice implemented by the individual members, those members should also participate (either as beneficiaries or as affiliated entities, otherwise their costs will NOT be eligible.

other eligibility criteria

To ensure a balanced portfolio, grants will be awarded to applications not only in order of ranking but at least also to two projects within the area A (better understanding the routes of exposure of the wild fauna and flora to chemical pollution) that is the highest ranked, and two projects highest ranked within the area B (pollinators and pesticides), provided that the applications attain all thresholds. Proposals shall clearly indicate the area they are applying to.

Additional information


Agriculture & Forestry, Fishery, Food, Soil quality, 
Air Quality, Biodiversity & Environment, Climate & Climate Change, Water quality & management

Relevance for EU Macro-Region

EUSAIR - EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region, EUSALP - EU Strategy for the Alpine Space, EUSBSR - EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, EUSDR - EU Strategy for the Danube Region

UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDGs)

Additional Information

All proposals must be submitted electronically via the Funders & Tenders Portal electronic submission system (accessible via the topic page in the Search Funding & Tenders section). Paper submissions are NOT possible.

Proposals must be complete and contain all parts and mandatory annexes and supporting documents, e.g. plan for the exploitation and dissemination of the results including communication activities, etc.

The application form will have two parts:

  • Part A (to be filled in directly online) contains administrative information about the applicant organisations (future coordinator and beneficiaries and affiliated entities), the summarised budget for the proposal and call-specific questions;
  • Part B (to be downloaded from the Portal submission system, completed and then assembled and re-uploaded as a PDF in the system) contains the technical description of the project.

Annexes and supporting documents will be directly available in the submission system and must be uploaded as PDF files (or other formats allowed by the system).

The limit for a full application (Part B) is 45 pages.


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