The natural world, its biodiversity and its constituent ecosystems are critically important to our wellbeing and economic prosperity. The dynamic response of forests to environmental change, including climate change, is only partially understood.
As a result of a visionary £15 million philanthropic donation, the University of Birmingham has set up the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) to focus on the impact of environmental change on woodlands, and on the resilience of woodlands to pests and diseases.
The institute’s key research infrastructure is a ‘next generation’ Free-Air Carbon dioxide Enrichment (FACE) facility to study the ecosystem-level effects of increased carbon dioxide (CO2) on mature oak woodland.
In addition to on-campus laboratories this comprises field facilities in a woodland area, enabling scientists to take measurements from deep within the soil to above the tree canopy. Autonomous sensors and instrumented trees allow scientists to take measurements continuously and remotely, over timescales ranging from seconds to decades.
The FACE facility is intended to be a platform on which a wide variety of research questions can be tested. The research team will be drawn from leading research groups across the world, each bringing their distinctive research expertise to bear.
Project director Professor Rob Mackenzie, Professor of Atmospheric Science at Birmingham, explains: ‘Forests harbour over 75% of all species globally and absorb about one third of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities.
‘In BIFoR FACE the trees are more than 160 years old and the forest soil is centuries older, providing a unique opportunity to experiment on a key biome in ways impossible in the lab or glasshouse. BIFoR FACE began extra CO2 exposure in spring 2017 and will continue in each growing season until 2026.’