August 17, 2022

The Impact of Climate on Tropical Forests: A natural experiment within the Eastern Arc Mountains, Tanzania

Atmospheric CO2 is high (over 416 ppm) and rising, and the impacts of this are felt across the globe as climate change. Tropical forests (which contain ~50% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity on only 6% of its land area) may be particularly vulnerable to changing climate. Whilst tropical forests have been absorbing carbon and so slowing the impacts of climate change, recent evidence shows that this carbon sink is saturating. Increasing temperatures and droughts have been identified as likely drivers of this change. Worryingly, these patterns could lead to a tipping point and might result in a widespread rapid shift towards large carbon emissions from tropical forests, which would have a dramatic impact on our efforts to reduce atmospheric CO2 in the 21st century.

This PhD will use the Eastern Arc Mountains, Tanzania (a global biodiversity hotspot) as a natural experiment. Forests across this mountain range experience a wide range in climate conditions (e.g. with temperatures ranging from 10-30˚C, and variations in seasonal patterns [with northern forests experiencing two rainy seasons, compared to only one in southern regions]). Such natural variation will help us to differentiate the effects of each aspect of climate (e.g. temperature vs drought) on forest ecosystems and assist predictions in how tropical forests might be impacted by future climate change.

This research involves using rare long-term datasets on tree phenology (the timing of life cycle events [e.g. flowering]) and seed yield. The successful candidate will compliment these data with extensive fieldwork within Tanzania, re-censusing tree inventory plots that were last visited ~10 years ago.

The multidisciplinary training programme central to this studentship will allow the candidate to develop skills in experimental and observational ecology, advanced statistics and GIS. This project should lead to several high-impact publications and makes a formidable opportunity to start a research career.