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Forest Ecology and Conservation

Head of Group: Dr David Coomes

David CoomesHuman population growth and resource consumption are placing enormous pressures on natural ecosystems. We are interested in how and why the world’s forests are changing, and using our research to inform conservation policy. Our research fits into three broad themes:

Forest dynamics

Forest ecosystems provide habitat for the majority of the earth’s biodiversity and are source of numerous ecosystem services, ranging from the provision of timber to regulation of carbon sequestration and storage. A clear understanding of forest dynamics is therefore necessary if these resources are to be managed and protected effectively, especially in the face of global change. Describing and quantifying processes such as mortality, regeneration and species interactions, and how they change over time and across the landscape, is key if an attempt to predict and mitigate the impacts of drivers such as climate change and land use change is to be made.

We combine several different approaches and methods to the study of forest dynamics. LiDAR remote sensing and hyper- spectral technology is being used alongside field studies to disentangle different aspects of forest dynamics, ranging in scope from individual trees to entire regions. In parallel, these datasets are being used to develop new, more accurate and comprehensive predictive models of forest dynamics

Carbon sequestration

Nothofagus forest
Nothofagus forests in New Zealand
We are assessing the impact of land-use change on carbon storage and diversity loss using a blend of remote-sensing  and ground based approaches. We are developing expertise in LiDAR and hyperspectral imagery as a method to determine large scale forest structure and composition.

Forest biodiversity

We are interested in modelling plant distributions and patterns of species diversity. As georeferenced information from herbaria and museums become more accessible through data portals such as GBIF, we are using species distribution models to predict species richness and diversity patterns at multiple scales. Additionally, we study how global changes such as invasive species, climate warming, eutrophication, and habitat fragmentation are affecting forest biodiversity.

Taking oak forests of southern Iberia as a model system, we are also employing airborne lidar to look at forest structure and plant diversity relationships. The same remote sensing technology is one of a number of approaches being adopted to study how forest biodiversity affects ecosystem function, through our participation in the FunDivEurope consortium.