Ecology and Global Environmental Change

Drawing on large-scale floristic, environmental and land-use data sets, we are investigating the impact of global environmental change on biodiversity and ecosystem services, and how this can be mitigated. This work aims to inform strategic conservation efforts and to contribute to wise land use planning. We also use palynological data to provide insights into vegetation responses and resilience to climatic change.

Current and recent work focusses on

Land use change in East and SouthEast Asia (Antje Ahrends)

The large-scale land conversion to monoculture cash crops in South East Asia is of major environmental concern. We collaborate with the Kunming Institute of Botany, China, and the World Agroforestry Centre to quantify these land use changes. Our work aims to manage economic and environmental risks by identifying situations where land conversions may be economically unsustainable (now and under future climate change) and lead to loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. We recently assessed risks to biodiversity and livelihoods from the expansion of rubber plantations into novel environments in South East Asia.

Forest degradation in East Africa (Antje Ahrends)

An estimated 73% of the sub-Saharan African urban population is reliant upon biomass fuels, and African cities experience the world’s highest urbanisation rate. Charcoal harvesting and timber exploitation for national and international markets place huge demands on local African forests. Forest extraction is often poorly regulated, leading to loss of revenue and negative impacts on biodiversity and livelihoods. Our recent work aimed to contribute to a better understanding of the patterns, drivers and impacts of forest degradation in East Africa. This information is vital to ensure sustainable wood extraction and equitable revenue-sharing with local communities. 

Tanzania's coastal forests are home to 700 endemic and near endemic plant and animal species. RBGE is assessing the extent of forest degradation as a result of unregulated timber extraction, and working with Tanzanian communities and policy makers to find solutions. 

Quaternary vegetation, climate change and human activity in the Hengduan Mountains, China (Alexandra Wortley)

Using fossil pollen data from multiple sediment cores, some dating back more than 20,000 years, we are interpolating past vegetation communities, likely climatic trends and human impact through the Holocene, back to the most recent glaciation of this part of Southwest China. Our recent studies – with scientists from the Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, focus on Wenhai and Haligu, on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. We now hope to conduct an innovative integrated analysis of multiple cores in the area, providing an in-depth assessment of the effect of time and space upon vegetation and climate. By studying the effect of past climate and human activity upon vegetation, we can then begin to predict the impact of future climatic change upon the biodiversity and human population of the area.

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