Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

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Ecosystem research groups

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Our work

The Ecosystems Laboratory, led by Prof. Yadvinder Malhi, seeks to understand how contemporary ecosystems function and how they may be affected by direct human pressures and global atmospheric change. This work spans the natural and social sciences, and the tools we employ in our research include:

  • Intensive field observation of carbon, water and nutrient cycling; vegetation and soil properties; plant ecophysiology; and climate.
  • Multi decadal and large scale monitoring and analysis of ecosystem structure, composition and dynamics.
  • Interdisciplinary studies of socio-ecological systems at agricultural and forest frontiers.
  • Quantitative modelling of ecosystem ecophysiology and biogeochemical cycling.
  • Satellite remote sensing at local, regional and global scales.
  • Macro-ecological analysis of plant function and traits.

Our interests are global, but we have particularly active research in tropical forests and savannas around the world, also in our local field site at Wytham Woods.

Current projects

  • Funding: Oxford Martin School
  • 2016-2020
  • Professor Myles Allen, Professor Yadvinder Malhi and Dr Friederike Otto

Oxford Martin TNC Climate Partnership

The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and the University of Oxford have joined forces in a major new scientific partnership to better understand how extreme weather events and human actions will both influence, and be influenced by, our changing climate. In particular, what effects do anthropogenic climate change and human activities have on the Amazon rainforest, and how can future damage be reduced?

  • Funding: NERC, ERC, GeoCarbon and Oxford Martin School
  • 2012-2018
  • PI: Professor Yadvinder Malhi

GEM: Global Ecosystem Monitoring Network

The Global Ecosystem Monitoring network (GEM) is an international effort to measure and understand forest ecosystem functions and traits, and how these will respond to climate change.

GEM Trait campaign
  • Funding: European Research Council Advanced Investigator Award and Peruvian part by a NERC grant
  • 2013-2018
  • PI: Professor Yadvinder Malhi


The GEM team has collected extensive data on the carbon cycle of forests along the Andes to Amazon transect since 2009. In 2013, the GEM-TRAIT project will focus on the same plots along the elevational transect, with the overall goal to collect primary data on tree functional diversity.

  • Funding: NERC (2011-2014) and the European Research Council (ERC), and also a new grant from the Leverhulme-Royal Society Africa Programme (2014-2016)
  • 2011-2016
  • PI: Professor Yadvinder Malhi


As part of our global network of intensive plots and plant traits collection, we are working on a gradient in Ghana ranging from wet rainforest (Ankasa National Park) through semideciduous forest (Bobiri Experimental Forest) through to forest-savanna transition (Kogyae Wildlife Reserve). Along this gradient we are studying the relationships between drought, biodiversity and ecosystem function.

Forest monitoring Photo: Jake Bryant, Envirofoto
  • Funding: European Union, NERC, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the European Research Council
  • Since 2001
  • ECI Lead: Professor Yadvinder Malhi


Three international long-term monitoring networks established to monitor the biomass and dynamics of Amazonian, African and SE Asian forests.


Weighing trees with lasers: reducing uncertainty in tropical forest biomass and allometry

A project led by UCL to scan tropical forests using laser instrument to measure carbon and forest structure.


Biomes of Brazil - Resilience, Recovery and Diversity (BIO-RED)

BIO-RED will improve understanding of the extent to which Brazilian forest & savanna are resisting climate extremes, the extent to which destruction is reversible, & the vulnerabilities of intact & modified vegetation to climate extremes.

Completed Projects

  • Funding: NERC
  • 2013-2018
  • ECI Lead: Professor Yadvinder Malhi

Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning in Degraded and Recovering Amazonian and Atlantic Forests (ECOFOR)

This project looks at the links between biodiversity and ecosytem function along forest disturbance gradients in Brazil, one site in the costal Atlantic Forest of the Serra do Mar in Sao Paulo state, and the second main site in the Amazon Forest near Santarem, Para. The work will involve installing intensive monitoring plots in both sites, and collected information on plant traits and also bird communities.

Full list of archived ecosystem related projects.