BIFoR Global Research 

 2024 Globalv2


19 and 20 June 2024 - Forests as communities, forests in communities - the 8th BIFoR annual meeting 

Recent articles from our team  
Mixed forests
Climate Crisis & trees  

Whilst difficult to place the research areas into "boxes" we have tried to highlight the global forest related research underway at the University of Birmingham below.  If you’re based at the University of Birmingham and have not yet contacted us to be part of BIFoR and you are involved in research related to forested landscapes please do contact  

Forest Ecology - Forest Dynamics 

Dr Adriane Esquivel Muelbert (GEES) investigates how forests respond to different global change forces and what the implications of these responses are on biodiversity and global biogeochemical cycles. Her work demonstrates the importance of drought tolerance in shaping diversity and composition across neotropical tree communities and provides evidence that Amazonian forests are changing as a result of the increase in water stress and atmospheric CO2. More recently, she has focused on tree mortality and how tree death varies across large geographical scales. In 2020, Adriane was winner of the Forests 2020 Young Investigator Award and lead for the successful International Tree Mortality Webinar series.

Adriane is part of the  MEMBRA  team which also includes Dr Bruno Cintra (GEES) and Dr Rodrigo Bergamin (GEES). Their research has included lots of field work across the UK. The MEMBRA project is about Understanding Memory of UK Treescapes for Better Resilience and Adaptation. It is a UK Treescapes project that looks at the memory of trees using cutting-edge molecular biology techniques to understand how past stresses are maintained and transmitted through generations.  Adriane is part of the SynTreeSys project, which aims to understand the drivers of tree biodiversity across the tropical Americas and assess the extinction risk of different tree species across the region.  

Adriane also recently started a NERC-NSF funded research project called GIGANTE. The project highlights are to improve our understanding of the ecology of giant tropical trees (≥50 cm diameter), which play a disproportionate role in carbon cycling and ecosystem functioning and improve the accuracy of global carbon dynamics modelling and learn from a global community of experts in tropical forest ecology, providing opportunities for creating a global network. 

Dr Liling Chang's (GEES) main research interest is to examine responses of terrestrial ecosystems to climate change, elevated atmospheric CO2, and disturbance events (fires, droughts). Her research focuses on integrating field observations, remote sensing data, and process-based models to quantify and predict ecosystem water, energy, carbon fluxes, productivity, and demography.
2024 Global v2
Dr Adriane Esquivel Muelbert - 2023 hottest year on record

Forest Hydrology 

The Water Sciences Research Theme at the University of Birmingham School of Geography Earth and Environmental Studies (GEES) has a large number of researchers, including the ecohydrology team Dr Sophie Comer-Warner, Prof David Hannah, Dr Nick Kettridge, Dr Kieran Khamis, Prof Stefan Krause, Dr Joshua Larsen, and Prof Alexandra Milner.   

Prof David Hannah's research is also relevant here as he and his team have been investigating how trees can impact river temperature, for example by lowering river temperature to protect Atlantic Salmon

Dr Joshua Larsen and Prof Phillip Davies (EPS) supervise  the following two PhD students:

Dee Phillips: Greenhouse Gases and Water Treatment with Trees / Plants

2024 Bruno Santosv2Bruno Santos setting up his research experiment at the EcoLaboratory, University of Birmingham 

Green House Gas Fluxes 

Prof Vincent Gauci (GEES) is a Birmingham Professorial Fellow in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences. He is interested in the biogeochemistry of carbon-dense terrestrial ecosystems such as forests, wetlands, peatlands, and forested wetlands and peatlands. In particular he is interested in how these ecosystems interact with the atmosphere through the exchange of greenhouse gases with a particular focus on trace greenhouse gases such as methane and N2O. 

Vince was co-author of a Nature paper which revealed that substantial cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions could be achieved by raising water levels in agricultural peatlands (Evans et al, 2021). Amongst six other papers, he published in Nature Communications on the role of tropical forests as drivers of lake carbon burial (Amor-Nogueira et al. 2022) and in the world’s oldest scientific journal, (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society) on Amazon tree methane emissions.  

A new research project will look at atmospheric methane (CH4), a green house gas that currently contributes 0.5°C of anthropogenically enhanced warming. There is a clear need to understand all the sources and sinks of atmospheric methane, as there is uncertainty around how they will change with changing forest cover, principally through deforestation. 

Prof Sami Ullah's (GEES) research is mainly focused on the biogeochemistry of nitrogen and its linkages to carbon and phosphorus cycling under global change in soils under forest, peatland/wetland, grassland, and agricultural crops. Sami is involved in a number of research projects which started in 2019/20 including ‘MarshFLux: Greenhouse gases & blue carbon under global change’ and research project ‘MangRoot Research: Getting to the roots of the carbon in mangrove forests: a case study in Vietnam’. 

Paleobotany and paleoclimate 

Paleobotany is the study of fossil plants that reveals information about once living species from the fossil record. Fossil plants provide important information about past processes including evolution, diversification, extinction as well as elucidating environmental change through deep time measured in hundreds of thousands or millions of years. Paleobotanical research at Birmingham utilises state of the art and traditional specimen-based approaches to integrate information from both fossil and living plants. Recent foci include the origin of modern conifer families, evolution of forest ecosystems, and systematic relationships of plant groups. Research in paleobotany is multifaceted and links to research strengths within BIFoR in plant adaptions to climate change. 

Prof Jason Hilton (GEES) is a research focused palaeobotanist and evolutionary plant biologist with interests in palaeoenvironments and palaeoecology. Jason's most recent paper demonstrated how it is possible to find out not just that world forests burned millions of years ago but also how hot they burned! 

Our 2023 BIFoR annual meeting had very many talks linked to Paleobotany, the proceedings can be found on our 2023 conference website.  An outcome of the conference was the production of this useful graphic showing the time domain of in relation to the evolution of trees.

2023 The TIme Domain Diagram

Biodiversity and Biogeography 

Dr Laura Graham (GEES), a Birmingham Fellow, is a computational/spatial ecologist interested in understanding how anthropogenic changes such as climate and land-use change affect global ecosystems, and how this in turn affects human well-being. She is particularly interested in using novel statistical methods and heterogeneous sources of data to answer applied and theoretical questions.  She was previously a mathematician and database developer, and applies skills learned there to answer ecological questions. She works on the IIASA-NERC funded project 'A complex-systems approach to improve understanding of the biodiversity-landscape structure relationship'. 

Dr Scott Hayward's (Biosciences) research group seeks to understand how organisms cope with variable and stressful environments. Temperate, polar and tropical terrestrial invertebrates (insects, mites and nematodes) are the primary focus of this endeavour. His lab uses state-of-the-art tools, and a systems biology approach, to investigate how these organisms detect, repair and stabilize the cellular and molecular damage induced by environmental stress, as well as their broader physiology and ecology. This research has fundamental applications in controlling agricultural pests and vectors of disease, as well as optimising ecosystem services such as pollination. Terrestrial invertebrates are also excellent biological thermometers in modelling the potential impact of climate change.

Dr Tom Matthews (GEES), a Birmingham Fellow, researches global environmental change issues using macroecological, macroevolutionary and biogeographical approaches. He applies a mixture of theoretical and empirical methods to investigate various macroecological topics, including species-area relationships and species abundance distributions. He has a keen interest in island systems and in particular the application of island theory to habitat island systems.

Prof Jon Sadler (GEES) is a biogeographer and ecologist whose research focuses on species population and assemblage dynamics in animals (sometimes plants). His work is highly interdisciplinary, bisecting biogeography, ecology, urban design, riparian management and island Biogeography.

Dr Juliano Sarmento Cabral (Biosciences) is one of the world’s experts in mechanistic modelling of eco-evolutionary biodiversity dynamics. His team have developed several mechanistic and process-based models for plant and animal populations, communities, and species ranges to demonstrate, for example, how ecological and genetic traits are both under selection under environmental change and how multiple environmental change drivers can have complex synergetic effects on plant biodiversity.

Environmental aerodynamics 

Environmental aerodynamics researchers collaborating with BIFoR include:
Dr Bruno Fraga (Civil Engineering)
Prof Rob MacKenzie (GEES)
Dr Mike Jesson (Civil Engineering)
Prof Andrew Quinn (Civil Engineering)

Biogenic volatiles

Prof Rob MacKenzie (GEES) is Professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of BIFoR. He is academic lead for BIFoR FACE and key to the Green Infrastructure research team and also supervises a number of students looking at plant atmospheric interactions. 

Prof Christian Pfrang (GEES) is also part of another ‘free air experiment’ in the UK, a Free Air Diesel and Ozone Enrichment facility (FADOE).  The experiment aims to understand the real-world effects of air pollutants like ground level ozone and diesel exhaust. The 8 metre diameter rings allow the team led by Dr Neil Mullinger (Centre of Ecology and Hydrology, CEH) to control the levels of ozone, diesel or both within each ring, this allows the team the opportunity to test how varying levels of these pollutants might effect the pollination success rates of the plants inside each ring. To put this simply, do bees visit the plants in the polluted rings less frequently than those with no pollution? Christian is also part of the DOMINO project, led by Dr Robbie Girling at the University of Reading. The project aims to investigate the mechanisms by which air pollution can disrupt vital airborne chemical signals that insects such as bees and moths use for critical processes, such as mating or finding a flower, and will evaluate the ecological consequences of this phenomenon. 

Prof Francis Pope (GEES) is an environmental scientist with wide ranging interests in the atmospheric sciences, human health and sustainable cities. He trained as a physical chemist and he uses this fundamental knowledge to develop novel instrumentation and probe systems of interest. Francis has active research projects in the broad areas of air pollution, climate change, fundamental aerosol chemistry and microphysics, and city resilience. He leads the ‘A Systems Approach to Air Pollution (ASAP) East Africa

2024 tree cores MEMBRA
Image above: Tree cores taken during the MEMBRA research UK sampling (see Forest Ecology/Dynamics)
Image Credit: Bruno Cintra