Professor Lee Brown

Professor Lee Brown


I am Professor of Aquatic Science. Within the River Basin Processes and Management research group I lead research on river ecosystems and aquatic ecology. Through my research I aim to increase understanding of how aquatic ecosystem biodiversity and functional processes respond to environmental change.

I am a freshwater ecologist with a particular interest in river ecosystems. My work crosses several research fields (population and community ecology, hydrology and geomorphology). I am particularly interested in river ecosystems in cold regions (alpine, arctic), the effects of catchment management (e.g. artificial drainage, vegetation burning, environmental-flows) on rivers, and aquatic food webs. Administratively, I have previously held the roles of Director of Research and led the school’s submission to REF2021.

Feel free to contact me for reprints of papers, or if you are interested in studying/working in our research group. I am interested in supervising PhDs on topics such as aquatic ecology (biodiversity, food webs), multi-functioning in aquatic ecosystems (metabolism, decomposition, production, biomass production), traits, functional diversity and community assembly.


  • REF2021 lead

Research interests

Arctic and alpine river ecosystems

Glaciers cover ∼10% of the Earth’s land surface, but they are shrinking rapidly across most parts of the world, leading to cascading impacts on downstream systems. Changes in river hydrology and morphology caused by climate induced glacier loss are projected to be the greatest of any hydrological system, with major implications for riverine and near-shore marine environments. The majority of my published and ongoing work relates to the effects of glacier retreat on river biodiversity and river habitat dynamics. This work has been undertaken in rivers around the world, including those in Alaska, the Andes, the European Alps, French Pyrenees, Greenland, Himalayas, New Zealand Alps, Scandinavia and Svalbard. I was a contributing author to the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) and, in recognition of my work, I was awarded the 2022 Royal Geographical Society’s Ralph Brown Award.

Land management effects on aquatic ecosystems

Peatland covers around 500 million hectares of global land surface, storing up to half the world's soil carbon. Poor management of these environments can result in vast environmental changes. Widespread management of UK peatlands, including artificial drainage and heather/grass burning, has resulted in significant changes in flow regimes, hydrochemistry and sediment fluxes of streams and rivers. Drain-blocking has also created thousands of new pools in the UK uplands. I was the principle investigator on the EMBER project (Effects of Moorland Burning on the Ecohydrology of River Basins).

Environmental flows and aquatic ecosystems

The regulation of river flows is one of the biggest stressors affecting river ecosystems across the world. In many westernised countries, major legislative efforts are therefore underpinning the development of new approaches to mitigate the impacts of river flow regulation. These approaches are based on optimising the management of river flows to maintain services to humans (e.g. water supply, hydropower) whilst protecting and/or rejuvenating the aquatic environment with water of adequate quantity and quality in space and time (i.e. environmental flows, aka e-flows). In this context, a field of applied aquatic science has developed to generate an evidence base for the best ways to manage the quantity, quality and patterns of e-flows to sustain river ecosystems. I was the co-ordinator of an EU Marie Curie funded ITN called Euro-FLOW (A EUROpean training and research network for environmental FLOW management in river basins) which trained a cohort of 15 researchers to be future leaders in the science, business and policy of this field.

Aquatic food webs

Most aquatic ecosystem studies to date have focused on individuals or species populations, rather than the higher levels of organization (i.e. communities, food webs, ecosystems). It has been proposed that an understanding of the connections between these different levels, which are all ultimately based on individuals, can help to develop a more coherent understanding of how ecosystems respond to environmental change. My research on aquatic food webs has been undertaken in a variety of settings, from mesocosms looking at the effects of drought, through to glacier-fed rivers in the European Alps, with additional contributions to various synthesis papers.

See my publications record for further details about my work in each of these research areas.

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD, Physical Geography, University of Birmingham
  • PGCLTHE, University of Leeds
  • BSc, Environmental Biogeoscience, University of Leeds

Professional memberships

  • British Ecological Society
  • Freshwater Biological Association

Research groups and institutes

  • River Basin Processes and Management

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>