2021 autumn Last Leaf Fall 

Seeing the peat for the trees - new BIFoR discoveries shed light on restoration potential, resilience and stability of peatlands and forests
by Prof. Vincent Gauci and Prof. Nick Kettridge

Forests and peatlands are both carbon-dense ecosystems that can occupy similar climatic zones and are both vulnerable to human activity. Indeed peat swamp forests in the tropics are vulnerable to both drainage and deforestation with consequences for their carbon balance and emissions to the atmosphere. In recent months, two BIFoR researchers have reported several discoveries on how such systems respond to changes in key factors with opportunities to improve management for carbon capture and storage.

Prof. Vincent Gauci and colleagues report results from a large multi-site study that show significant carbon retention gains can be made in drained and deforested peatlands while maintaining their use for agriculture simply by partially raising the water table. Gauci with colleagues also report that preserving SE Asian peat swamp forests in an ‘intact’ state confers a remarkable resilience with far lower total greenhouse gas emissions in response to drought events than local deforested peatlands. This interplay between peatlands and forest ecosystems has, in recent weeks been more explicitly examined.

Prof Nick Kettridge and colleagues report how forest and peatland ecosystems, with very different carbon dynamics and storage processes, are able to coexist across Europe. This ‘bistablity’ results from internal ecoydrological feedbacks that support the continued persistence of the pre-existing ecosystem. Peatland ecosystems that are most threatened across Europe have been identified using this new understanding. This framework is now being applied to develop a country scale decision support system to target ecosystem reclamation to maximise carbon capture and storage.

Evans et al. 2021. Overriding importance of water table in the greenhouse gas balance of managed peatlands. Nature.
Deshmukh, Chandra S., et al. 2021. Conservation slows down emission increase from a tropical peatland in Indonesia. Nature Geoscience 14.7: 484-490.
van der Velde, Ype, et al. 2021 Emerging forest–peatland bistability and resilience of European peatland carbon stores. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 118.38 (2021).

Research highlight: Old oaks new tricks

By Anna Gardner

The first substantive science results from the BIFoR FACE facility have been published. Mature oak trees will increase their rate of photosynthesis by up to a third in response to the raised CO2 levels expected to be the world average by about 2050. We are now measuring leaves, wood, roots, and soil to find out where the extra carbon captured ends up and for how long it stays locked up in the forest.

Gardner A., Ellsworth D.S., Crous K.Y., Pritchard J. and MacKenzie A.R. (2021). Is photosynthetic enhancement sustained through three years of elevated CO2 exposure in 175-year old Quercus robur? Tree Physiology.

Visit our website to see more publications pending, including: Baird, A.B., et al (2021) and Crowley, L.M. et al (2021)

2021 autumn newsletter AG

Available now

A series of essays relevant to the COP26 climate change summit. Including 10 essays written by BIFoR members. Find out more.




Research Funding

Prof. Frank Uekötter has received aprestigious Advanced Grant from the European Research Council of £1.74m for The Making of Monoculture: A Global History.

BIFoR is involved with three of the sixprojects that have been selected to receivea share of £10.5 million from UKRI in itsFuture of UK Treescapes Programme.
1)  Dr Estrella Luna Diez Principal Investigator alongside 4 BIFoR colleaguesfor MEMBRA — exploring whether treescan remember past stress conditions such as drought or disease and transferthese memories to their descendants.
2)  Dr Joshua Larsen Coinvestigator with CASTOR exploring restoration of riparian woodland.
3)  Prof. Peter Kraftl Coinvestigator onthe project Voices for the Future —Collaborating with children and young people to re-imagine Treescapes. 

Green Infrastructure for Roadside Air Quality (GI4RAQ) 

Bespoke design software Green Infrastructure for Roadside Air Quality or ‘GI4RAQ’ was launched in July 2021. The software helps towns and cities use street-planting to reduce citizens’ exposure to air pollution. 


New Appointments

We congratulate BIFoR’s; Prof. Sami Ullah recently appointed academic lead for BIFoR FACE and a BIFoR Director; Dr Emma Ferranti on her new role as Senior Lecturer in Civil Engineering.

We also welcome 3 new post doctoral researchers to the growing Tree Pathology Team; Diana Vinchira (metabolomics); Sabrine Dhaouadi (field pathology), Olivia Mosley (metagenomics and transcriptomics).


3rd to 4th November 2021 Trees for the Future – Diversity and complexityfor resilience and carbon storage 
26th & 27th January 2022 Transforming our understanding of globalforests – BIFoR 6th Annual Community meeting. Visit our website for more information.

The Treescapes 2021 conference (July 2021) was organised by a committee of doctoral researchers -supported by BIFoR & the Royal Forestry Society. Conference proceedings are available online. Image credit: Holly McKelvey
2021 autumn newsleter Treescapes workshop

Public Engagement

BIFoR FACE research is included in

•  The inaugural exhibition - ‘The Air We Breathe’ - at the University of Birmingham’s newly refurbished city center building— The Exchange until September 2022.
•  The Thinktank Our Changing Planet exhibition
•  The British Science Museum Our Future Planet
2021 autumn newsletter The Exchange

Prof Rob Jackson has contributed to a new science comic ‘Luna and the Microbes’ and alongside Dr Mojgan Rabiey to a new video explaining Bacteriophages – a safe and natural alternative for treating cherry canker?

Doctoral research

Our Leverhulme-funded Forest Edge Doctoral Scholarship (DSP) has enabled the broad training of 16 postgraduate doctoral researchers. A further two students will take advantage of this scholarship this year. The legacy of this DSP will continue as we will now invite new students to join Forest Edge who i) study forests landscapes and ii) are not linked already linked to a doctoral training program. BIFoR now has a total of 47 doctoral researchers (with 6 graduated)! Joining us in 2021 are;

•Alexander Armstrong: nitrogen pollution, Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences (GEES)
•Gemma Baker: animal-forest trophic interactions, GEES
•Kieran Clarke: ‘Rapid Engineered Spectroscopic Technology’ (FoRESTech) for identification of filamentous pathogens in leaves’, Chemical Engineering
•Emily Grace: oak bacteriophages, Biosciences - affiliated to Action Oak
•Katherine Hinton: ash dieback, Biosciences, affiliated to Kew Gardens
•William Hagan Brown: climate change impacts on forest canopy temperatures, University of Plymouth 
•Fatima Kahn: isotopic tracing, BIFoR FACE, GEES
•Yanzhi Lu: environmental benefits of street trees, GEES
•Vanja Milenkovic: soil and tree health, oak, Biosciences - affiliated to Action Oak
•Nigar Parvin: green infrastructure, GEES
•Amy Webster: cabbage tree disease on St Helena, Biosciences - affiliated with St Helena Research Institute & CABI
•Jiaqi Wei: threat of Xylella on UK trees, GEES

Student projects

We’re proud of the 19 undergraduate/masters students, who despite the many disruptions, produced some very interesting dissertations. Our volunteers have been a tremendous help too. We have logged 613 hours of volunteering this academic year!