Professor Oliver Phillips FRS

Professor Oliver Phillips FRS


My long-term research goal is to understand the dynamics of carbon and biodiversity across the world’s tropical forests, how these change with our changing climate, and how they feedback on the whole planet.

The scale of the endeavour is large, requiring global teamwork and a multidisciplinary approach. I lead a team of researchers to understand the behaviour of Amazonian forests in the changing earth system, and actively collaborate with hundreds of colleagues to create a bottom-up observatory of some of Earth’s richest ecosystems.

Because tropical forests are so productive and still occupy a relatively large portion of the planet's surface, small differences in their carbon balance can have a significant impact on slowing, or speeding up, the rate of global climate change. They also harbour half the species on earth, so it is vital to understand how their diversity is impacted by global atmospheric and climate change and how changes in forest ecology in turn affect the carbon cycle. I am leading long-term monitoring in Amazonia that has been tracking forest dynamics, biomass, and biodiversity for 30 years. With colleagues, this work spans 300 sites across Amazonia (the RAINFOR project).  We are developing similar approaches elsewhere and support researchers and networks worldwide through In this era of rapid change, my goals are to build and support long-term and collaborative initiatives to understand tropical ecosystems and the threats they face.

PhD Supervision

I currently supervise several PhD students from the UK, Brazil, China, and Europe

I would be interested in supervising PhDs on topics such as:

  • Tropical forest ecology and change, including floristic and vegetation dynamics

I have developed and led collaborative research partnerships investigating these themes with colleagues worldwide, including: Brazil (INPA, Museu Goeldi, INPE, UNEMAT); Peru (Universidad Nacional San Antonio Abad de Cusco, Instituto para la Investigación de la Amazonía Peruana); Colombia (Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Jardín Botánico de Medellín); Ecuador (Quito Herbarium, Missouri Botanical Garden); Bolivia (Museo de Historia Natural Noel Kempff, Universidad Autómoma de Beni); the European Space Agency; France (CNRS Toulouse); the United States (Missouri Botanical Garden, and Conservation International); Netherlands (Utrecht University); and the UK (Oxford University Centre for the Environment, University of Edinburgh, University of Exeter, University of Birmingham, Lancaster University, UCL).  I have personally led more then 30 field campaigns to 7 different countries, involving more than 200 team members.  Links to the more than 60 institutional and 200 co-investigators who contribute to the RAINFOR project are available here.

With support from NERC, the European Space Agency, the European Research Council, the Royal Society and others I lead investigations into the carbon and forest dynamics of Amazonia, as well as exploring the factors controlling the distributions of tropical plants, and assessing how forests change, respond to and resist climate change.

Current project support for my research students and post-doctoral researchers comes from the European Research Council, the European Union, the European Space Agency, the Royal Soceity, CAPES (Brazil), NERC, and the University of Leeds.

Selected Grants

  • 2021-2026 NERC, “Resolving the current and future carbon dynamics of the dry tropics (SECO)” ca £700K Leeds value. Co-I
  • 2021-2023 European Space Agency, “ForestScan” ca £280K Leeds value.
  • 2019-2024 Royal Society International Collaboration Award GCRF. For a climate-resilient Amazonia, "FORAMA"  PI. £225,000.
  • 2019-2023 Norwegian Research Council. “Cascading effects of hunting and fishing for ecosystem services in Amazonian forest”.  1M Norwegian Kr.
  • 2019-2022 NERC Newton Fund, Latin American Biodiversity Programme, “ARBOLES".  ca £500K to Leeds.  Co-I
  • 2018-2021 European Space Agency: Forest Observation System. Leeds PI
  • 2018-2021 European Research Council, Research Grant, "TREEMORT", Redefining the carbon sink capacity of global forests. Co-I.
  • 2017-2019 British Council Newton Fund Institutional Links + Indonesian Grant. Determining the Resilience of Logged Dipterocarp Forests to El Niño Drought. £50K plus Indonesian co-funding. UK PI
  • 2017-2019 British Council Newton Fund Institutional Links +CNPq Brazil PELD, Mato Grosso, Brazil. £75K plus Brazil co-funding. UK PI
  • 2016-2020 NE/N012542/1 BIORED (joint-PI). £1.2M, plus FAPESP co-funding
  • 2016-2019 NE/N012550/1 NORDESTE (Leeds PI). £150K, plus FAPESP co-funding
  • 2016-2019 Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. RAINFOR-Perú. (Co-I). £1.2M.
  • 2016-2018 Royal Society Global Challenge Research Fund Award. Sensitivity of Tropical Forest Services to Climate Changes. PI. £100K
  • 2012-2018 European Research Council, Advanced Research Grant. Tropical Forests in the Changing Earth System (T-FORCES). PI. €2.5M.
  • 2013-2017 NERC-FAPESP: ECOFOR project on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning in degraded and recovering Amazonian and Atlantic Forests. NE/K01644X/1, Co-I.
  • 2011-2014 NERC Standard Grant, Niche Evolution of South American Trees and its Consequences, NE/I027797/1 Co-I. £259K to Leeds.
  • 2008-2012 Moore Foundation, “RAINFOR: a proposal to understand the carbon balance of Amazon forests” (PI); £2.6M.
  • 2008-2014 NERC Consortium Grant, Amazon Integrated Carbon Analysis “AMAZONICA” (with M. Gloor et al.) £3.6M, NE/F005806/1. Co-I. Responsible for WP3 (£600K).
  • 2006-2011 NERC Consortium, Tropical Biomes in Transition “TROBIT”. NE/D005590/1. £1.5M. (Co-I)
  • 2009-2012 - Microsoft Research PhD Scholarship Programme, The other half of the equation: global variation in tree mortality, PI, with E. Gloor, S. Lewis, D. Purves (Microsoft Research). £72K to Leeds.
  • 2009-2012 - NERC Award, Open Case Award PhD Biodiversity, carbon storage, and productivity of the world’s tropical forests.  PI, with S. Lewis and UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC). £65K to Leeds.
  • 2009-2012 - FINCyT award (Peru) to Euridice Honorio and Leeds for PhD research with Oliver Phillips. Total value £60K.
  • 2008-2012 - Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, “RAINFOR: a proposal to understand the carbon balance of Amazon forests” (PI), £2,220,000 to Leeds.
  • 2008-2014 - NERC Consortium, Amazon Integrated Carbon Analysis “Amazonica” (with Emanuel Gloor et al.) £3,646,000 FEC total, £1,585,000 to Leeds.  Leader, WorkPackage 3,
  • 2006-2012 - NERC Consortium, Tropical Biomes in Transition “TROBIT”.  NE/D005590/1.  £506,673 to Leeds.  Co-I. 


  • More than 500 items world-wide in print, radio, and TV
  • Several thousand internet reports.

Present Position

  • Professor in Tropical Ecology, Earth and Biosphere Institute and School of Geography, University of Leeds, U.K.
    Since 2006

Previous Posts

  • Reader in Tropical Ecology, Earth and Biosphere Institute and School of Geography, University of Leeds, U.K 2003-2006
  • Lecturer, School of Geography and Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, University of Leeds, U.K. 1999-2003
  • Natural Environment Research Council Research Fellow 1996-1999
  • 1995-96 Research Fellow in Biodiversity, School of Geography, University of Leeds.
  • 1994-95 Project Coordinator for the Missouri Botanical Garden, U.S.A.: Gentry tropical forest diversity project.
  • 1993-94 Consultant to the Centre for Plant Conservation, U.S.A.
  • 1991 Consultant to Shaman Pharmaceuticals, Inc., U.S.A.: Ecological and sociological feasibility study of sustained-yield extraction of Croton lechleri medicinal latex.


  • Coordinate the RAINFOR Amazon Forest Inventory network
  • Coordinate the global initiative

Research interests

My main long-term research goal is to understand the dynamics of carbon and biodiversity across the world’s tropical forests, how these change with our changing climate, and how they may feedback on the whole planet. The scale of the endeavour requires global teamwork and a multidisciplinary approach. I work with a team of more than 200 researchers worldwide to understand the behaviour of tropical forests in the changing earth system.

<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 'Comparative Valuation of Tropical Forests in Amazonian Peru'
  • Organisation for Tropical Studies graduate student field course (Tropical Managed Ecosystems), Cost
  • Natural Sciences, St Catharine's College, University of Cambridge

Professional memberships

  • Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation,
  • International Association for Vegetation Science
  • British Ecological Society
  • Tambopata Reserve Society (Scientific Advisor since 1999)
  • Society for Economic Botany (former Council Member)

Research groups and institutes

  • Ecology and Global Change

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>