my research

The majority of my research to date has focused on finding out about the ecological dynamics of the coastal peat swamp forests of South-east Asia; a hugely carbon-rich, biodiverse ecosystem that is highly threatened, predominantly by the expansion of oil palm agriculture. During my doctorate at the University of Oxford (2008-2012), I used fossil pollen to investigate the long-term ecological dynamics (over the last 7000 years) of the coastal peatlands of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, in northern Borneo. I wanted to find out how these forests have responded to disturbances in the past, in the hope that I might reveal some information of use for their current management under large-scale and rapid land-use change. I counted fossil charcoal to look at fire disturbance, and looked at various other proxies to see how the peat swamp forest has responded to different disturbances through time. Included in my thesis was an exploration of the values different stakeholders assigned to this ecosystem, and what visions they had of its future under increasing pressure from agricultural expansion and other development. For more information on the individual chapters, have a look here.


Mid-way through taking a 5m deep peat core in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo.

One of the first chapters in my thesis explored recovery rates, calculated from published fossil pollen diagrams, of different tropical forests over the last 20,000 years (i.e. Holocene and a bit beyond). This meta-analysis yielded some interesting results: the main ones being that Asia tropical forests, some of the most threatened at present from the expansion of urban areas and industrial agriculture, seeming to recover the slowest from disturbances, and forests exposed to more frequent disturbance through time were quicker to respond.

My Masters thesis involved many more animals: I investigated human-wildlife conflict in the agricultural matrix abutting Kaziranga National Park, in Assam, north-east India. A fascinating and challenging month of fieldwork for me, but nothing compared to what the farmers, and the elephants, rhinos, tigers and other magnificent animals all sharing this limited area, are experiencing everyday, all trying to feed themselves somehow. Watch this/a-yet-to-be-decided-on journal space for more details….imminently!

And before that, I measured a character-building number of xylem vessels to figure out whether trees under ‘stressful’ environmental conditions still grow according to traditional allometry. You can find out more about that here (Coomes et al., 2007).

If you’re eager for specifics, have a look at these sites or get in touch:

– some info on the work I did/am doing in the Oxford Bubble

– my page

– & Research Gate profile