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Project Leader: Prof Yadvinder Malhi

Belize Project
Our work in Belize takes place with the collaboration of the Belize Forestry Department.  Three notable features of Belize's forests are: (1) the frequency of hurricane damage; (2) the widespread limestone bedrock leading to non-acidic tropical soils and (3) the extensive past legacy of the Mayan civilization. 

The team: 

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Project Leader: Prof Yadvinder Malhi
The Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems project (SAFE) explores how forest biodiversity and ecosystem function vary along a gradient from intact forests (Maliau Basin), through to logged forest, fragmented forest and oil palm plantations in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. This is a 10-year, multi-partner project led by Imperial College. More details can be found at Our team installed and runs the intensive monitoring plot and a flux tower measuring the impacts of conversion of forest to oil palm plantation.  
​In association with the SAFE, the BALI project (Biodiversity and Land Use Impacts on Tropical Ecosystem Function) is a large NERC funded consortium project looking at the interactions between biodiversity and biogeochemical functioning along disturbance gradients in Borneo.  It is centred on the SAFE and Maliau sites, but also includes old-growth forests at Lambir Hills (Sarawak) and restoration forest at Danum Valley.  BALI runs from 2013 to 2017.  

The team: 

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Project Leader: Prof Yadvinder Malhi
As part of our global network of intensive plots and plant traits collection, we are working on a gradient in Ghana ranging from wet rainforest (Ankasa National Park) through semideciduous forest (Bobiri Experimental Forest) through to forest-savanna transition (Kogyae Wildlife Reserve). Along this gradient we are studying the relationships between drought, biodiversity and ecosystem function. This work is in close collaboration with the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG) and also the University of Tuscia in Italy. The research is funded by grants from NERC (2011-2014) and the European Research Council (ERC), and also a new grant from the Leverhulme-Royal Society Africa Programme (2014-2016), focussed on "water stress, ecosystem function and tree functional diversity in tropical African forests".

The field campaign started in October 2014 and the main campaign finished in April 2015, but a follow-up study by Ghanaian PhD student Teresa Peprah is looking at the seasonal variation in lead traits and photosynthesis.

The team: 

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Project Leader: Prof Yadvinder Malhi

RAINFOR (the Amazon Forest Inventory Network) is a network of forest inventory work across Amazonia. We co-founded RAINFOR together with Oliver Phillips of the University of Leeds in 2001. Since then RAINFOR has led to fundamental new insights into the Amazon carbon sink and its response to drought, and the functional biogeography of Amazonia. It has been funded by the European Union, NERC and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

AFRITRON is a sister network in Africa, co-ordinated by Simon Lewis of UCL/University of Leeds, obtaining similar insights for sites in Africa. We contribute sites in Ghana and Gabon (and in the future Ethiopia) to AFRITRON.

T-FORCES is a  project supported by the European Research Council that integrates and expand these plot networks, and also develops a similar network in SE Asia. Oxford's role is to conduct ecophysiological transects along elevation gradients in Peru (2014), and Australia (2015). The Peru campaign was completed in October 2014. The Australia campaign was completed in 2015.

The team: 

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Project Leader: Prof Yadvinder Malhi

This is a new consortium project, looking at ecosystems services, degradation and links to poverty in the cocoa farm and forest landscape around Kakum National Park, Ghana, and the coffee growing landscape of south-western Ethiopia. It is funded by the NERC/DfID programme ESPA (Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation) and run from July 2013 for three years. It is in partnership with the University of Reading, The Nature Conservation Research Centre in Ghana and Ethiopia, and numerous other partners in both African countries.

The project field campaign kicked off in Ethiopia and Ghana in Feb-April 2014 and will continue for 2.5 years. A project workshop in Elmina, Ghana in October 2015 showed excellent progress, and a fascinating dataset being collected covering both natural and social science. A number of our DPhil students (Festus Asaaga, Gonzalo Griebenow, Christine Moore, Victoria Ferris) have attached additional projects to this core project.

In 2016 we have been awarded an additional grant by NERC, to examine the impacts of the 2015/2016 El Niño event on both these focus social-ecological systems. Both these study areas were affected by a strong drought during the El Niño. With the new grant we will be continuing to work at this site well into 2017.

The team: 

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Image by Rodrigo Flores
Project Leader: Prof Yadvinder Malhi

ECOFOR is a UK-Brazil consortium project jointly funded by NERC and FAPESP. It looks at the links between biodiversity and ecosytem function along forest disturbance gradients in Brazil, one site in the costal Atlantic Forest of the Serra do Mar in Sao Paulo state, and the second main site in the Amazon Forest near Santarem, Para. The work will involve installing intensive monitoring plots in both sites, and collected information on plant traits and also bird communities.

The traits campaigns associated with this work have been underway through 2015

The team: 

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Project Leader: Prof Yadvinder Malhi
Ancient southern temperate forests of Chile

The project is exploring the functioning and carbon dynamics of the magnificent Fitzroya forests of Chile. The magnificent southern temperate forests  contain some of the oldest trees on Earth, some of them several thousand years old. The project is led by the Universidad Austral de Chile and in particular Antonio Lara, and funded by Chilean government funding agencies. We have installed weather stations and intensive monitoring plots operated by DPhil student Rocio Urrutia, and in early 2014 a flux tower will be installed.


The team: 

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Image by Daniel Seßler
Project Leader: Prof Yadvinder Malhi
Wytham Woods

Wytham Woods is Oxford University's own long-term research site, and has played in pivotal role in the history of ecology. Our group has a range of research there. This includes an 18 ha plot where 20,000 trees are being monitored as part of the SIGEO (Smithsonian Institute Global Earth Observatory) network, lots of 1 ha plots (including in edges and fragments) that are a joint project with Earthwatch, and an eddy covariance flux tower in partnership with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

The team: 

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Project Leader: Dr Imma Oliveras
Designing better fire management policies for the
post-conflict Colombian Amazon
The University of Oxford’s Dr Imma Oliveras, Dr Ariell Ahearn and
Charlie Tebbutt are collaborating with Dr Dolors Armenteras and
the ECOLMOD team at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNAL)
to investigate local perceptions of the forest fire system in Colombian
Amazonia. Charlie and UNAL students Laura Obando Cabrera and
Maria Meza Elizalde have produced fuzzy cognitive maps (FCMs)
with 9 different stakeholder groups in order to model potential fire
management scenarios, using techniques pioneered in Bolivia by Oxford
graduate and University of British Columbia Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Tahia Devisscher. The project aims to directly include local stakeholders in research that informs adaptive fire management policy, while contributing to the systematic reduction of forest fire occurrence and promoting interdisciplinary skills-sharing across national and sectoral boundaries.
Project Leader:  Dr Elizabeth le Roux

The role of large mammal consumers in nutrient transport

Animals can play important roles in moving nutrients around the landscape. Where water moves nutrients downslope, downstream and eventually out to the ocean, animals can move nutrients in directions opposite to these abiotic movements. They do this by consuming nutrients in one location and depositing it elsewhere through faeces, urine and eventually through the carcass of the dead animal.

In this project we investigate this ‘consumer-driven nutrient transport’, focusing specifically on phosphorus. We do this using a methodological approach called agent-based modelling, where we create a virtual savanna filled with virtual animals that interact with each other and with their virtual landscape. We set certain rules to govern the behaviour of the animals, who will then adapt their behaviour in response to changes within their environment.


Photo courtesy of Cathy Hue

Using this model we monitor how much phosphorus are being transported by animals and we perform virtual experiments to identify

-        the conditions under which mammal-driven phosphorus transport becomes an important nutrient flux; and

-        the characteristics of animals that influence their capacity to transport phosphorus.

We can also model potential future scenarios, investigating for example the extent to which fencing could disrupt nutrient movements or the consequences that the extinction of particular species will have on nutrient distribution.

Project Leader:  Dr Jesús Aguirre Gutiérrez
Making sense of diversity: remote sensing of functional diversity of tropical forests. Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research -NWO.
Functional diversity among species in ecosystems makes these systems function well and generate services for society, e.g. carbon sequestration and water filtration. Functional diversity determines the ecosystem’s resilience to environmental changes, e.g. climate change. Although the importance of functional diversity is now recognized, its drivers across spatial scales are not yet clear. This lack of knowledge is enhanced by the difficulty to infer functional diversity from communities that cannot be realistically sampled, e.g. most tropical rain forests.
In this research, I propose to address this challenge and go beyond the current knowledge by investigating which are the main climatic and soil drivers of functional diversity and predict functional diversity to locations where information is lacking. I propose to do this by investigating how remotely sensed data from state of the art technologies, i.e. hyperspectral vegetation signatures and vegetation structure, contribute to our understanding of the distribution of functional diversity. This will be done by combining ecological theory, abiotic environmental data and remote sensing proxies in a spatially explicit statistical modelling framework. Next, it will be tested using detailed ground-truthed tropical forest tree information. This framework will allow the prediction and analysis of functional diversity and its drivers in tropical rainforest.


Resources and related content:
Publications: 1, 2, 3 and Commentary on "Drought alters forest composition, carbon
capture". EcoAmericas, April 2019, page 4.

Project Leader:  Prof Yadvinder Malhi and Terhi Riutta
Carbon dynamics and ecosystem functioning in a human-modified tropical forest landscape in Malaysian Borneo
Tropical forests in South East Asia among the tallest, most carbon-dense, species-rich ecosystems in the world. At the same time, the region is hotspot of forest degradation and deforestation. Our project is studying the biogeochemical cycle and ecosystem functions in this landscape as part of the Stability for Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE) Project and the NERC-funded BALI consortium.
We have a flux tower in the logged forest landscape and ten intensive carbon plots across the land-use gradient spanning old-growth forest, moderately and heavily logged forest, and mature oil palm plantation. The plots are part of the GEM network, where we monitor the carbon and nutrient cycle and leaf and wood traits. Hyperspectral LiDAR flights in 2014 and 2016 have enabled detailed landscape-level studies.
malaysia project.jpg
Project Leader: Dr Imma Oliveras

Drought-fire interactions on secondary Brazilian vegetation. FAPESP-Brazil.
More than 85% of the Brazilian area was originally covered by three biomes: the Amazon, the Cerrado and the Atlantic forest, all among the most biodiverse in the world. However, land use changes and deforestation have reduced this area to less than 60%, and much of the remaining vegetated areas sustain secondary and disturbed vegetation rather than primary vegetation. In addition, the
climate is warming and drying, and the increasing occurrence of extreme heat and drought is
already causing an increase in the flammability of forests. This project aims to answer the following questions: How will Brazilian forests change as a result of these stressors? Will undisturbed and regenerating forests respond differently? What is the role of biodiversity in mitigating or increasing their vulnerability to a drier, warmer and more flammable climate? This project is linked to the joint NERC-FAPESP bid BIO-RED (see below) 

The team: Co-PI Dr. Simone Vieira (NEPAM, Unicamp, Brazil).
Key project partners are Prof Rafael Silva Oliveira (Unicamp), Prof. Beatrwiz Schwantes Marimon (UNEMAT Nova Xavantina), and Dr Marina Correia Scalon (U. Oxford).

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Project Leader: Prof Yadvinder Malhi and Dr Imma Oliveras 
BIOmes of Brasil – Resilience, Recovery and Diversity (BIO-RED). NERC-FAPESP
This projects spans the three largest biomes in Brazil, the Atlantic and Amazon Forests, and Cerrado savanna. Together these cover >85% of Brazil’s territory and include many of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth, but all have seen large losses in extent. While the value of their vegetation is increasingly recognized it is unclear to what extent these systems can regenerate or resist the increasing environmental stressors associated with climate change, particularly heating & drying. The motivation of BIO-RED is to understand how these changes affect the ability of intact & regenerating ecosystems to deliver societal benefits. This requires addressing these key questions: (i) How resilient are old-growth & regenerating ecosystems to the key stressors expected from future environmental changes? (ii) Is the destruction a reversible process on time-scales relevant to human society? Thus, will vegetation recover to a similar state as the original and provide similar services? (iii) Will the increasingly hot climate affect the recovery of forests and will modified forests be more vulnerable to future environmental change than intact forests?  Answering these is only possible with a sound understanding how these systems function and what their sensitivities are.

The team: Other co-PI: Prof Oliver Phillips (U. Leeds), Prof Manuel Gloor (U. Leeds) and Fabien Wagner (INPE). Project collaborators: Prof Yadvinder Malhi (U. Oxford), Dr. David Galbraith (U. Leeds), Dr. Luiz Aragao (INPE), Prof Jos Barlow (U. Lancaster), Dr Marina Correa Scalon (U. Oxford), Prof Beatriz Schwantes Marimon (UNEMAT), Dr. Edmar Oliveira (UNAMET/U/Oxford), Dr. Erika Berenguer (U. Oxford), Dr Joice Ferreira (Embrapa), among others.

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Project Leader: Dr Nicola Stevens

Understanding how changes in woody resources in South Africa impact on
biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Funded by South African National Research Foundation / SASCAL (Nicola Stevens)
Savannas which are characterised by a co-dominance of trees and grasses, are experiencing high levels of woody encroachment where both the density of trees are increasing and trees are expanding into grasslands. This project aims to understand some of the consequences of woody change on biodiversity. We will use the South African Bird Atlas Project 2 (SABAP2), a citizen science initiative designed to collect information about the occurrence of birds within South Africa. The second bird atlas project (SABAP2) launched in 2007, and still currently in effect, requires citizens to list all bird species seen in a fine-scale grid square (5 min by 5 min grid or ~ 7km2) over a minimum of a 2-hour period, whilst attempting to visit all habitat types. There are over 17 000 pentads extending coverage to the whole of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, and currently ~230 000 checklists submitted to provide an extensive time series on South African bird occurrence. The SABAP2, coupled with data on woody cover change can be used to assess how bird communities are responding to regional woody encroachment across space.
Secondly we aim to quantify how woody cover change interacts with ecosystem service delivery. The South African census data 2011 (StatsSA 2011), which details household level use of natural resources such as the reliance on grazing areas for livestock rearing and the use of wood for cooking, heating and building, in conjunction with the national land cover change maps, will be used to identify socio-ecological consequences of woody cover change at multiple spatial scales. This approach will for the first time allow an understanding of the impacts of woody encroachment on ecosystem service provision and livelihood strategies at scales relevant to decision makers and provide insight into the vulnerability of people and environments to climate change and economic and political perturbations (Kasperson et al 1995).
This project is being done in collaboration with partners at University of the Witwatersrand and Council for Scientific and industrial research.
Project team: Dr Chevonne Reynolds (@ChevReynolds), Dr Jospeph White (@trailmix_jdmw),
Dr Jolene Fisher (University of the Witwatersrand)
Project Leader: Dr Nicola Stevens
Mechanisms controlling species limits in a changing world:
A demographic approach for disturbance driven ecosystems
Funded by South African National Research Foundation / SASCAL
(Nicola Stevens and Sally Archibald)
Savannas are defined as mixed tree-grass ecosystems.
Recent research shows that trees in these landscapes have spread from other biomes by evolving
traits that allow them to survive the strong selective forces of fire, herbivory, grass competition
and drought. These selective forces, together with temperature, are still very important controls of individual species distribution in these ecosystems. Recent research has highlighted that classic climate envelope models are insufficient for predicting the consequences of global change for our diverse and economically important savanna tree communities. This project will establish a novel predictive framework from which to improve our ability to understand and predict how the future ranges of savanna species will respond to global change. We will use a demographic approach to understanding threats and risks of woody plant species in southern Africa, based on sound experimental observations. The outcome will be easy to use methods for assessing the status of individual species and communities, as well as a community of trained young scientists to apply these methods. Objective 1 (seed establishment): To quantify the interacting impacts of temperature and drought on germination and establishment success across a range of tree functional groups. Objective 2 (seedling survival): To predict the probability of tree seedlings surviving fire, herbivory, frost, and grass competition in different environments based on their functional traits and the likelihood of these events occurring. Objective 3 (sapling recruitment to adult): to understand what developmental mechanisms determine the success or failure of tree saplings in a savanna context, and develop harvesting guidelines to maintain healthy populations. Objective 4: (capacity building and application): To develop indicators of the health and status of tree populations and test these in a range of ecosystems by training students in these assessment techniques.
Project team: Prof Sally Archibald (@SallyArchibald),
Dr Mathieu Milan(University of the Witwatersrand) , Happy Magena (University of the Witwatersrand),
Prof Wayne Twine (University of the Witwatersrand)
Project Leader: Prof Yadvinder Malhi and Dr Jesús Aguirre Gutiérrez
ARBOLES: A trait-based Understanding of LATAM
Forest Biodiversity and Resilience

Discovering the effects of environmental changes on Latin-American forest ecosystems. 
In this project we are looking into how past and near present changes in environmental
conditions (e.g. climate and land use change) are modifying the forests composition.
However, more than only looking at these changes based on taxonomic entities we
are looking at it under the lens of functional traits. We use functional traits of plants
because they are the 'tools' that allow species to adapt to the new environmental
conditions or shift towards more suitable locations.


I focus on answering two main questions:


1) Are forests shifting in trait composition?

I am analysing first if Latin-American forest communities are shifting in trait composition and if such changes are due to modifications in environmental conditions.


2) What is the potential for multispectral reflectance approaches to aid mapping of canopy traits at large-scale?

Scaling trait patterns provides scaled-up knowledge of trait variation in space and time and allows us to track them across time and space. Here I look into the application of high spectral, spatial and temporal resolution satellite remote sensing, as Senitnle-2, and also multispectral drone-based remote sensing to track tree canopy functional traits across large spatial scales in South America.

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