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Department of Plant Sciences


Research group



2015 - present: Post-doctoral research associate: "Physiology and stable isotope ecology of moss growth for modelling spatial and temporal climatic signals" Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge

2012-2015: Post-doctoral research associate: "Terrestrial Holocene climate variability on the Antarctic Peninsula"                             - British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge UK

2008-2012: PhD, Physiological Ecology group, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge. "Environmental isotopic records preserved in Antarctic peat moss banks".

2005-2006: MSc, Biology (Integrative Bioscience), University of Oxford.

2002-2005: BA (Hons), Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge.


2015 - present: Researcher Co-Investigator on NERC standard grant NE/M001946/1

2012-2015: Named post-doc on NERC grant NE/H014896/1 (AFI_11_05)


1. Physiology and stable isotope ecology of moss growth for modelling spatial and temporal climatic signals

We want to increase our understanding of moss growth dynamics to include how plants respond to different evaporative conditions, how different types of moss grow, what conditions are best for the fixation of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and growth through the synthesis of organic matter.

These developments in moss physiology will be integrated with local weather conditions in models of moss growth that can be applied across large areas to predict periods of plant growth. We will carry out laboratory experiments in which moss growth is manipulated, monitored and measured, using isotope labels and growth responses under different temperature, humidity and drying regimes. We will work on moss species that grow in a range of habitats from wet bog Sphagnums, through hummock forming Polytrichales to desiccation tolerant Syntrichia.


At the field scale, the same mosses will be monitored in their natural environment, testing how the experimentally determined dynamics apply within an ecologically relevant setting. The  combination of lab and field measurements will firstly allow us to determine the controls on moss organic matter 18O composition as climatic conditions vary. Secondly, remote sensing field measurements will be made from a distance of several metres using newly developed LIFT (laser induced fluorescence transient) technology. By understanding the link between moss growth dynamics and photosynthetic activation over this larger spatial scale we will establish a baseline that will allow remote sensing methodologies, such as measurements from aeroplanes and satellites, to be used to monitor moss performance in the future.

Project collaborators:

Dr Jörg Kaduk (University of Leicester)

Prof. Heiko Baltzer (University of Leicester)

Dr Lisa Wingate (INRA Bordeaux)

Dr Jérôme Ogée (INRA Bordeaux)

Prof. Dr. Uwe Rascher (Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany)


2. Terrestrial Holocene climate variability on the Antarctic Peninsula:

The overall aim of the project is to establish whether the recent observed rate and pattern of climate change on the Antarctic Peninsula is outside the range of natural climate variability for the late Holocene. See project website for more information and our blog:

Project overview:

royles 2We are developing palaeoclimate records from cores of peat from moss banks, which occur throughout the western areas of the Antarctic Peninsula. We will derive multi-proxy palaeoclimate records based on stable isotopes, testate amoebae, moss growth and degree of decay from the deepest moss banks on the Antarctic Peninsula. Target locations are distributed across the observed gradient in rates of late 20th century temperature change in order to reconstruct spatial patterns of change as well as temporal variability. Modern moss samples from the region, precipitation data, instrumental climate data and cellulose isotope records will help us understand cellulose isotope-climate relationships for the region. Testate amoebae assemblages in both modern and fossil samples will also be analysed to develop independent records of hydrological change. Moss morphology will provide supplementary data on past temperatures, and we will also test whether plant growth rates and phenology have responded to recent climate change on the Antarctic Peninsula. We aim to reconstruct climate variability for the past c. 5000 years from the stable isotope, peat humification, testate amoebae and moss morphology records and then compare and integrate the records with existing and new ice core, lake sediment and marine records to improve understanding of regional climate change and its relationship with global climate variability and external drivers.

royles 3Project members:

Dr Matt Amesbury (Department of Geography, University of Exeter)

Professor Peter Convey (British Antarctic Survey)

Professor Dan Charman (Department of Geography, University of Exeter)

Professor Howard Griffiths (Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge)

Professor Dominic Hodgson (British Antarctic Survey)


Key publications: 

Dan J. Charman, Matthew J. Amesbury, Thomas P. Roland, Jessica Royles, Dominic A. Hodgson, Peter Convey, Howard Griffiths; Spatially coherent late Holocene Antarctic Peninsula surface air temperature variability. Geology doi:

Roland, T. P., M. J. Amesbury, D. M. Wilkinson, D. J. Charman, P. Convey, D. A. Hodgson, J. Royles, S. Clauß and E. Völcker (2017). "Taxonomic Implications of Morphological Complexity Within the Testate Amoeba Genus Corythion from the Antarctic Peninsula." Protist 168(5): 565-585.

Amesbury, M. J., T. P. Roland, J. Royles, D. A. Hodgson, P. Convey, H. Griffiths and D. J. Charman Widespread Biological Response to Rapid Warming on the Antarctic Peninsula. Current Biology 27(11): 1616-1622.e1612.

Gimeno, T. E., Ogée, J., Royles, J., Gibon, Y., West, J. B., Burlett, R., Jones, S. P., Sauze, J., Wohl, S., Benard, C., Genty, B. and Wingate, L. (2017), Bryophyte gas-exchange dynamics along varying hydration status reveal a significant carbonyl sulphide (COS) sink in the dark and COS source in the light. New Phytol. doi:10.1111/nph.14584

Bombelli, P., R. J. Dennis, F. Felder, M. B. Cooper, D. Madras Rajaraman Iyer, J. Royles, S. T. L. Harrison, A. G. Smith, C. J. Harrison and C. J. Howe (2016). Electrical output of bryophyte microbial fuel cell systems is sufficient to power a radio or an environmental sensor. Royal Society Open Science 3(10).

Amesbury MJ, Charman DJ, Newnham RM, Loader NJ, Goodrich J, Royles J, Campbell DI, Keller ED, Baisden WT, Roland TP, et al(2015). Can oxygen stable isotopes be used to track precipitation moisture source in vascular plant-dominated peatlands?. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 430, 149-159. 

Amesbury MJ, Charman DJ, Newnham RM, Loader NJ, Goodrich JP, Royles J, Campbell DI, Roland TP, Gallego-Sala A (2015). Carbon stable isotopes as a palaeoclimate proxy in vascular plant dominated peatlands. Geochimica Et Cosmochimica Acta, 164, 161-174. 

Royles, J. and H. Griffiths (2014). Climate change impacts in polar-regions: lessons from Antarctic moss bank archives. Global Change Biology:  21(3) p1041-1057: DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12774

Royles, J., A. B. Horwath and H. Griffiths (2014). Interpreting bryophyte stable carbon isotope composition: Plants as temporal and spatial climate recorders. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems. DOI: 10.1002/2013GC005169

Royles, J., M. J. Amesbury, P. Convey, H. Griffiths, D. A. Hodgson, M. J. Leng and D. J. Charman (2013). Plants and soil microbes respond to recent warming on the Antarctic Peninsula. Current Biology 23: 1-5.

Royles J., Ogée J., Wingate L., Hodgson D.A., Convey P. & Griffiths H. (2013) Temporal separation between CO2 assimilation and growth? Experimental and theoretical evidence from the desiccation tolerant moss Syntrichia ruralis. New Phytologist, 197, 1152-1160.

Royles J., Sime L.C., Hodgson D.A., Convey P. & Griffiths H. (2013) Differing source water inputs, moderated by evaporative enrichment, determine the contrasting δ18OCELLULOSE signals in maritime Antarctic moss peat banks. Journal of Geophysical Research - Biogeosciences, 118 (1), 184-194

Royles J., Ogée J., Wingate L., Hodgson D.A., Convey P. & Griffiths H. (2012) Carbon isotope evidence for recent climate-related enhancement of CO2 assimilation and peat accumulation rates in Antarctica. Global Change Biology, 18, 3112-3124.

Roberts S.J., Hodgson D.A., Shelley S., Royles J., Griffiths H.J., Deen T.J. & Thorne M.A.S. (2010) Establishing lichenometric ages for nineteenth- and twentieth-century glacier fluctuations on South Georgia (South Atlantic). Geografiska Annaler A, 92, 125-139.


Other publications: 

Amesbury, M. J. and Royles, J. (2013) Unlocking the secrets of Antarctic moss banks. Planet Earth Summer: 24-25

Teaching and Supervisions


Supervisions: Part 1A Physiology of Organisms (Animal, plant and microbial physiology)

                    Part 1B Plant and Microbial Sciences (Water, nutrients and temperature module)

Research Projects:  Part II  Plant Sciences

                              Part 1B Ecology

                              Summer studentships

Practical Classes:     Part 1B Plant and Microbial Sciences - Photosynthesis and plant water relations

                              Part 1B Plant and Microbial Sciences - Field trip to Portugal

Postdoctoral Research Associate
Dr Jessica  Royles

Contact Details

Email address: 
Department of Plant Sciences,
University of Cambridge,
Downing Street,
01223 330218