Current Projects

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).

Resources and related content:

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 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: 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:  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: 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
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 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: 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.

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 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:  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.
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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