Current Projects

Project Leader:  Yadvinder Malhi

Leverhulme Centre for Nature Recovery

The ongoing loss and degradation of nature and its biodiversity are amongst the greatest challenges of our time. These trends, driven by increasing but unequal societal demand for food and other ecosystem goods and services, are already having tangible consequences both for the intrinsic fabric of the natural world and the climate system, as well as for human well-being and societal integrity.

The new Leverhulme Centre for Nature Recovery, based at the University of Oxford will tackle the challenge of halting and reversing this loss of biodiversity by addressing the ecological, social, cultural and economic dimensions of nature recovery in a single framework, harnessing state-of-the-art technologies and thereby developing and testing an innovative model to deliver nature recovery at scale.

Acting as a hub for innovative thinking, discussion and analysis of nature recovery nationally and worldwide, the Centre will unite leading researchers from a wide range of disciplines across the University, its interdisciplinary approach bringing together expertise from geography, ecology, social science, finance, economics, psychiatry, anthropology, artificial intelligence, statistics and earth observation, to collaborate on a range of projects in conjunction with national and international partners.

Tree Planting
Successful nature recovery requires the full engagement and support of local communities, appropriate local governance and clear articulation of financial costs and benefits. It necessitates not only an understanding of ecology and land use, but also understanding and allowing for local land rights as well as cultural, social, food provision, health and wellbeing, and the economic values of landscapes. The Centre aims to incorporate these multiple dimensions into a single framework for developing scenarios and strategies for nature recovery.

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Project Leader:  Yadvinder Malhi
Healthy Ecosystem Restoration in Oxfordshire (HERO)

HERO is a three year programme (in the first instance) supported by the Oxford Martin School, under their new Programme on Biodiversity and Society. HERO will explore how Oxford University can play a role in efforts to restore healthy ecosystems in Oxfordshire, by bringing the university’s strengths in academic knowledge, research capacity and convening power to support ongoing and planned nature recovery activities by a range of local partners and stakeholders. We are working with organisations from around Oxfordshire to maximise the potential for demonstration and research of HERO.
With its active network of nature recovery groups, Oxfordshire presents a unique opportunity to test and showcase a portfolio of different ecosystem restoration strategies, to become a model county for nature recovery. HERO aims to build a community of practice between the University and local practitioners, and will also form a resource for the University and its constituent Colleges within broader institutional sustainability goals.
Cherry Blossoms
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Project Leader: Dr Imma Oliveras
Strategies for conserving Cerrado biodiversity and ecology: the role of fire as a management tool. John Fell Fund,Oxford.    
This is a pump-priming project that proposes the establishment of an experimental burning program with the aim of setting the grounds for a long-term research program on the fire effects on savanna ecology. After more than 35 years of a complete fire exclusion policy many regions of the Cerrado biome have suffered a substantial woody thickening and the more open savanna formations have disappeared. The experiment would be set in a unique area that has a fascinating rich mosaic of
flora and fauna belonging to the Cerrado, Amazon and Pantanal Biomes. The main objective of this proposal is therefore to design and implement an experimental design composed by a series of permanent plots that will be subjected to fire with the aim of answering the following questions: i) how does a 35-year fire protected vegetation structure change after one fire? ii) what are the mortality rates of the main species responsible for woody encroachment after fire? iii) does fire allow the re-introduction of fire-dependant species? 

The team: Co-PI: Prof Maria Antonia Carniello (UNEMAT), Marcelo Feitosa and Luiz Gustavo Goncalves (ICMBio).

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Project Leader: Prof Yadvinder Malhi
The Global Ecosystem Monitoring network (GEM) is an international effort to measure and understand forest ecosystem functions and traits, and how these will respond to climate change. The GEM network aims to capture both ecosystem-level properties and the functional composition of the community.

The GEM network encompasses many separately-funded projects, including projects in the Amazon-Andes, in West and Central Africa, and in Malaysia. We are also looking to incorporate new partners and plots into the network, such as in Belize, Hawaii and China.

The team:

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Project Leader: Prof Yadvinder Malhi
GEM-TRAIT. NERC- Royal Society.
The GEM team has collected extensive data on the carbon cycle of forests across the tropics . Over the period 2013-2018, the GEM-TRAIT protocol will be applied across all our GEM plots. This ambitious field campaign will result in the first global dataset linking tropical tree diversity to ecosystem function. GEM-TRAIT is funded by a European Research Council Advanced Investigator Award , with additional support for specific transects by other NERC and Royal Society grants . It will run from 2013 to 2018.

We will also work with the world’s most cutting-edge airborne remote sensing technology to explore how functional diversity and ecosystem function scale and vary at landscape scales.

The first and probably most ambitious traits campaign, in the Peruvian Andes, kicked off in April 2013 and continued until November 2013. It has been named CHAMBASA (CHallenging Attempt to Measure Biotic Attributes along the Slope of the Andes). Chambasa is slang for "a lot of work" in Spanish.  The second major campaign was over April-May 2014, and is focussed on the forest-savanna transition in Brazil. It has been named BACABA (Biotic Attributes at the Cerrado-Amazonia BoundAry), the name of a distinctive local palm. The third campaign (T-FORCES Peru) was in central and northern Peru in 2014, the fourth (KWAEEMMA) was in Ghana in 2014/2015, the fifth (T-FORCES Australia) in 2015, and the sixth (Borneo, as part of the SAFE/BALI project), was over late 2015. and the seventh and eighth campaigns were in the Atlantic and Amazon forests of Brazil in 2015 (the ECOFOR project).

Overall we have collected a huge standardised global dataset on plant traits and ecosystem function.

The team:

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Project Leader: Prof Yadvinder Malhi
The multi-trophic impact of ash dieback
Ash dieback is a fungal pathogen that has a detrimental effect on the European ash tree
(Fraxinus excelsior) causing mortality rates up to 90% in the first 10 years of infection. 
Multi-Trophic Wytham is a NERC funded project examining the multi-trophic impact of ash
dieback in Wytham Woods, a maritime woodland outside Oxford, southern UK. It is an
interdisciplinary collaboration that incorporates expertise from departments across
the University of Oxford (School of Geography and the Environment, Department of Zoology,
Department of Plant Sciences, and WildCRU) and further afield (CEH Wallingford,
University College London). The project has been organised into three overarching topics that provide a wider conceptual ecological framework around ecosystem response to extensive tree mortality beyond the specific case of ash dieback including (a) biochemical cycling, (b) vegetation structure and predation pressure, and (c) woodland connectivity. We will track the shifting ecosystem ecology under natural progression of the mortality event and also conduct manipulations of “accelerated ash dieback” to gain insights into longer-term dynamics, using ring-barking. This ambitious project will result in a novel multi-trophic understanding of the impacts of pathogen-induced mass tree mortality, providing better understanding of processes that are applicable to managing and mitigating the ecological consequences of tree dieback events more generally.
The team: Professor Yadvinder Malhi (SoGe), Dr Cecilia Dahlsjö (SoGe), Professor David Macdonald (WildCRU), Dr Daniella Linton (Zoology), Dr Eleanor Cole (Zoology), Professor Mathias Disney (UCL), Dr Keith Kirby (Plant Sciences), Dr Curt Lamberth (SoGe), Dr Sarah Knowles (Zoology), Dr Anna Oliver (CEH), Dr Denise Pallett (CEH), Stefanie Schäfer (CEH). 
Project Leader:  Dr Jesús Aguirre Gutiérrez

Tropical forests responses to a changing climate: a quest at the interface
between trait-based ecology, forest dynamics and remote sensing.

Funded to Jesus Aguirre Gutierrez 
by NERC-Independent Research Fellowship 2021-2026

In this project I aim at improving our understanding of tropical forest responses to
global change drivers by integrating established biodiversity metrics with state-of-the-art
functional traits, spatially explicit multidecadal vegetation information and remote
sensing approaches. This novel approach and new understanding are essential for
developing robust conservation and management strategies and will contribute to
national and international biodiversity conservation goals.

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Project Leader:  Dr Jesús Aguirre Gutiérrez

Interdependence of tropical forests and soil biota as seen by remote sensing
Funded by John Fell Fund 2021-2023

Soil biota can enhance the capacity of plants to obtain nutrients. In turn, soil decomposers,
affected by leaf nutrient status, drive the distribution of tree symbiotic partners around the
world. The biodiversity rich tropical forests, which are home to more than 50% of global
diversity, urgently need answers to the above mentioned questions as evidence shows how
climate change is affecting their biodiversity levels. By sampling tropical forests from
South America, Africa, Asia and Australia this project will 1) determine how the soil biota
is structured across tropical forests and if and how it is determined by the plant species
diversity; 2) if such patterns of soil biota-plant diversity are determined by climatic conditions,
and 3) if they can be captured by the tree canopies by means of the diverse traits plant species possess and which can be observed by means of remote sensing imagery (i.e. drone images). If the diversity of soil biota is determined by the diversity of plant species and their functional traits (e.g. leaf nutrient content) it would be a step change for our ecological understanding if we could track such soil biota-plant relations across spatial scales. If this is possible we would have a better understanding on how such soil biota-plant diversity feedback cascades across the tropical forests and on how forest functioning and resilience may be impacted by a changing climate.
Hands in the Soil
Project Leader:  Jeppe Aagaard Kristensen

Soil carbon feedbacks to reintroduction of large herbivores in Arctic landscapes: Decelerating climate warming? - HERBIVARC
Introduction of large herbivores in ecosystems where they are currently extirpated is a way of restoring natural ecosystem dynamics. Large animals effectively increase the landscape variation and in turn biodiversity. Yet, the role of large herbivores in regulating interactions between vegetation and soils and the combined impact on climate feedbacks remains poorly explored. Soils are important global carbon (C) stores, and as the Arctic region warms about 4 times faster than the global average, the Arctic soil C-pool is currently being turned over and released to the atmosphere as greenhouse gasses. Introduction of large herbivores may have the ability to decelerate this trend, partly through increasing the soil C-input and -stabilisation. HERBIVARC will elucidate changes in soil C-dynamics caused by herbivore introduction in the tundra and estimate its potential for climate change mitigation. 
In 1996, an assembly of large herbivores, including bison, Yakutian horses, reindeer, and more, were introduced into an area called the Pleistocene Park (PP) in Northeastern Siberia. This experiment has created a unique opportunity to study the effects of herbivores on ecosystem dynamics on timescales relevant for climate change. In HERBIVARC, we will combine field-based estimates of greenhouse gas effluxes from soils inside and outside the PP. Moreover, we will take soil samples for studying soil C-mobilisation and -stabilisation under laboratory conditions. Finally, we will explore the biological drivers of the changes soil C dynamics by quantifying the changes in soil faunal and microbial communities associated with large herbivore introduction.  


Photo by Bowman, Tim, USFWS, on Pixnio
Project Leader:   Marc Macias-Fauria, SoGE

The climate mitigation potential of Arctic rewildingSoil carbon feedbacks to reintroduction of large herbivores in Arctic landscapes: Decelerating climate warming? - HERBIVARC

Note: This project is currently on hold due to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

For the last three decades, members of the Zimov-family has maintained a large-scale grazing experiment in NE Siberia, with a functionally diverse community of yak, bison, goats, horses, camels amongst other species. This was initiated to test hypotheses about Arctic climate-feedbacks to the presence of large herbivores in relatively high densities. Basically, the hypotheses suggest that large animals in relatively high densities can swap tundra-ecosystems into more productive grassland systems with a range of moderating effects on climate warming, primarily through reduced permafrost thaw.
A team led by SoGE researcher Marc-Macias Fauria, including Yadvinder Malhi and Jeppe Kristensen from the Ecosystem’s lab, have planned a field evaluation of the impact of the herbivore introduction. This includes installing permanent flux-monitoring equipment (flux-towers and chambers) measuring CO2 and methane from the tundra inside and outside the park, as well as monitoring relevant biotic (plant community structure and compositions, mammal communities and landscape use, etc.) and abiotic parameters (soil temperature and moisture, permafrost thaw depths, surface albedo, snow characteristics, etc.). These datasets would be supplemented by more in depth evaluations of the soil community and carbon storage in different pools, to better understand the mechanistic underpinnings of the direct climate-feedbacks. Finally, the abovementioned datasets will be used to parameterise an ecosystem model and used for upscaling together with high-resolution time-series UAV-data.
Project initiation and fieldwork was planned for the summer 2022, but it is currently put on hold due to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.  
Blog-post at the Oxford University Polar Forum website:

Winter Snow
Project Leader:   Imma Oliveras

NEO-FIRE: Understanding and scaling vulnerability of neotropical Amazon and transitional forests to altered fire regimes.

The Amazon is the most important biome of South America, harbouring extraordinarily high levels of biodiversity and providing important ecosystems services. This biome is particularly notable for evolving independently from fire and in a moist, warm climate. In recent decades, altered fire regimes and an increasingly hotter and drier climate has pushed this key biome towards ecological thresholds that will likely lead to major losses in biodiversity and ecosystem services. Similarly, the ecotonal forests at the Amazon-Cerrado transition are unique ecosystems in terms of form and function, but they may be the first to suffer large-scale tree mortality and species loss due to the combined effects of increased anthropogenic disturbance, altered fire regimes and a drier climate.
Vulnerability of fire and droughts are closely intertwined in Amazonian and transitional forests because fires in this region only occur when there is water stress and a human ignition source. Thus, drought increases vulnerability to fire, but we do not yet understand the magnitude and spatial variation of these vulnerabilities. Once a forest burns there is immediate tree mortality, but recent evidence also shows a significant time-lagged mortality that can last for decades, becoming an important carbon source.

Wild Fire
However, the mechanistic processes that lead to time-lagged tree mortality in this myriad of forest ecosystems encompassing the Amazon biome and the Amazon-Cerrado transition are still poorly understood. We also lack knowledge on how these processes might vary spatially across the biome and its transition. A better understanding of the mechanisms that lead to tree mortality after fires and droughts is needed to design future policies that emphasise nature-based solutions including restoration and natural regeneration.This project uses aims at deciphering the mechanisms that underly vulnerability to fire and time-lagged post-fire mortality across the tropical forests in Amazon and Amazon-Cerrado transition. To achieve this aim, we quantify fire vulnerability at three different scales and link them through an upscaling approach. First, we identify the ecological mechanisms that explain why individuals and species die after fires occur. Second, at the community scale, we examine how vegetation structure, community traits and microclimate affect the probability to burn. Third, we predict the vulnerability of the Amazon forests and Amazon-Cerrado transitional forests. This information will be directly applicable for the detection of sensitive hotspots (areas particularly vulnerable to fire) through satellite products. We will deliver quantifiable early-warning metrics of ecosystem vulnerability to fire that can be mapped and incorporated into fire management policies.

This project is led by Dr. Imma Oliveras Menor (U.Oxford, IRD), with Manoela Machado as postdoctoral research assistant (U. Oxford, Woods Hole Climatic Research Centre) , Prof Jos Barlow (U. Lancaster) and Prof Yadvinder Malhi (U. Oxford) as co-investigators, and eight other partner institutions from Brazil, US and UK
Project Leader:  Yadvinder Malhi

DIEBACK - Evaluating fire-induced impacts on tree dieback and carbon fluxes in human-modified Amazonian forests

Wildfires have become the new norm in many parts of the Amazonian humid forest, an ecosystem
that did not co-evolve with this stressor. Large areas of previously undisturbed and human-modified
forests are catching fire, jeopardizing the future of the largest and most biodiverse tropical rainforest
in the world. Despite the growing prevalence of Amazonian wildfires, we still have a very limited
understanding of why these low intensity understorey fires cause very high rates of tree mortality,
which species functional traits predict vulnerability or survival to these fires, what are the impacts of
wildfires on the forest carbon balance and what are the patterns of taxonomic and functional recovery following a fire event. We propose a research plan to achieve major advances in our understanding of such wildfire impacts, including of the underlying mechanisms that cause both short-term and longer-term tree mortality.


We will achieve this by combining a state-of-the-art forest burn experiment with continued monitoring of a unique set of long-term sampling plots, some of which we have tracked through a 2015-16 wildfire event associated with a strong El Niño. We are uniquely placed to address these fundamental questions given our network of burned and unburned forest plots that is already in place, and the numerous past datasets that we can use as baseline information. As well as advancing scientific knowledge about a pervasive and increasing threat to the future of tropical forests in the Anthropocene, our co-designed pathways to impact ensures we will also inform and improve approaches to minimise risk of fire-induced dieback of humid Amazonian forests.

This project is led by Prof. Yavinder Malhi and Prof. Jos Barlow, Co-I Erika Berenguer and Co-I Imma Oliveras

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