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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Lead supervisor: David Edwards, Plant Sciences

Co-supervisor: Adam Pellegrini, Plant Sciences

Brief summary: 
Preferential clearance of flatter and lowland tropical forests means remaining habitat tends to be on steeper slopes: this PhD tackles the key question of what are the implications of steeper tropical forests for biodiversity and carbon stocking?
Importance of the area of research concerned: 
Tropical forests of the Anthropocene will be smaller, simpler, steeper, and emptier than they are today. While the implications of diminished size and connectivity, reduced structural and community complexity, and extirpation of overexploited species are well quantified, understanding the potential risks and benefits of forests being increasingly restricted to steeper, less-accessible areas is a key question. Tropical forests are less frequently cleared at high elevations and on steep slopes resulting in remaining forests that, on average, are steeper across all four tropical continents. The consequences for biodiversity and for ecosystem functioning and services of losing disproportionate amounts of forest on level terrain have not been well studied. Species that require flatter areas in lowlands, montane valleys, and mountain tops are likely to be acutely vulnerable to future deforestation, potentially driving biotic homogenisation, yet research quantifying the number of such specialists is lacking. In turn, the relative ability of sloping versus flat forests to sequester and store carbon is a major knowledge gap that this PhD will tackle.
Project summary : 
Clearance of flatter areas means that remaining tropical forests are on average steeper. This PhD project will quantify the biodiversity and carbon consequences of increasingly steep tropical forests. It will use a combination of field data sources and global range maps to project species at risk from clearance of flatter areas and consider the capacity of remaining steeper areas to better facilitate species movements and survival as they track optimal climatic niches under climate change. It will then use carbon maps and habitat deforestation, degradation, and restoration products to quantify potential consequences for carbon sequestration and stocking. This PhD will thus provide a critical evidence base for the appropriate direction of conservation resources under emerging global agendas, including 30x30 and the Bonn Challenge to restore 350 million hectares by 2030.
What will the student do?: 
This PhD will use a combination of field data, global range maps, and remotely sensed carbon and land-use change products to quantify and project outcomes for birds, trees, and carbon stocking over time. Specifically, the student will: (1) Bring together evidence of species habitat use from published accounts and databases, potentially including citizen science records (eBird, iNaturalist, etc) (2) Map and quantify the pan-tropical consequences of steeper tropical forests for species range area and diversity. (3) Use climate change projections to quantify connectedness of flatter and steeper areas to analogous climates (4) Use remotely sensed carbon and habitat-change products to understand the impacts of steeper forests for carbon stocking, plus sequestration under restoration.
References - references should provide further reading about the project: 
Edwards, D.P., et al. 2019 Conservation of tropical forests in the Anthropocene. Current Biology vol. 29, pp.R1008-1020.
Senior, R.A., Hill, J.K., Edwards, D.P. 2019. Global loss of climate connectivity in tropical forests. Nature Climate Change vol. 9, pp.623-626.
You can find out about applying for this project on the Department of Plant Sciences page.