Research activities


Ecosystem 'Mechanics'

Our research aims to understand how ecosystems function and how global changes will affect ecosystem processes. We use experiments to gain mechanistic insights into plant-plant and plant-microbial interactions that influence the resistance and resilience of ecosystems to disturbance. To achieve this, we use tools from plant ecology, ecophysiology, biogeochemistry, microbial ecology and soil science.
Much of our research is conducted in long-term field sites in Germany, Panama and the UK, but we also carry out small-scale experiments and functional assays in the lab.
Our main research areas are:
1) Functional diversity and plant-soil interactions under global change
  • Species traits and adaptation in future ecosystem functioning 
  • Functional diversity as a control of tropical forest greenhouse gas (GHG) exchange
  • Plant functional diversity and carbon sequestration
2) Nutrient cycling and soil carbon storage in tropical forests
  • Direct nutrient cycling and plant adaptation to nutrient limitation
  • Formation, stabilization, and release of soil organic carbon under climate change
  • Species diversity and decomposition processes

Current and recently completed projects

Refining Estimates of Tropical Forest Greenhouse Gas Exchange using Plant TraitsNatural Environment Research Council (NERC) Standard Grant; PI, with project partners at Lancaster University, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and Colorado State University
Understanding plant acclimation to phosphorus limitation. Royal Society International Exchange Grant and National Natural Science Foundation China, Co-PI with project partners at the South China Botanical Garden and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
FACE underground: can trees in mature forests gain greater access to soil nutrients under elevated atmospheric CO2?  NERC Standard Grant; Co-I, Lead: S. Ullah, University of Birmingham, with project partners at the University of Exeter. 
The Gigante Litter Manipulation Project, Co-PI, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama.

Selection of previous projects

Resistance by adaptation: Does evolution stabilise plant community structure and function under climate change? NERC Standard Grant; Co-I, lead: R. Whitlock, University of Liverpool.
Impacts of climate-driven evolution on plant-soil interactions and ecosystem functioning. NERC Standard Grant; Co-I; lead: R. Whitlock, University of Liverpool.
Intra- and interspecific leaf trait variation, decomposition processes and the ‘home-field advantage’ in European woodlands. EvolTree Opportunity project; Co-I, lead: L. Banin, UKCEH.
Biodiversity, Ecosystem Functions and Policy Across a Tropical Forest Modification Gradient. NERC Large Grant; Co-PI and work-package lead, with partners at the Universities of Oxford, Aberdeen and Kent, Queen Mary University of London, and UKCEH.
ForestPrime: Predicting carbon release from forest soils through priming effectsERC Starting Grant, PI; with project partners at UKCEH, STRI, and the Universities of California, Oxford, and Cambridge.
Creating a Woodland at Glastonbury Festival - linking research and public engagementLancaster University Impact Fund