Dr Karen Bacon

Dr Karen Bacon


My research spans palaeobotany to present day plant ecology and incorporates elements of plant biology, geology and geochemistry.  I am interested in how plants respond to changes in atmospheric composition and how these responses can be tracked in the fossil record.  I work on developing plant-based proxies for interpreting changes in atmospheric composition and on tracking plant responses to changing environmental conditions.  I am currently investigating the effects of atmospheric composition, temperature and light quality on leaf physiognomy, functioning and development and plant responses to extinction events.

I welcome PhD applications in the following areas:

  • Palaeobotany/palaeoecology
  • Plant responses to climate change/atmospheric composition change (past/present or future)
  • Plant and leaf morphometrics/physiognomy 
  • Development of proxies for palaeobotany
  • Understanding invasive plants

Research interests

My research interests span deep time palaeobiology to modern ecology. I am particulalry interested in understanding how plants repond to environmental change both in a modern context and in relation to environmental upheavals, such as mass extinctions, in the geological record. I am also interested in taphonomy, the science of fossil preservation, and understading what quality of information can be determined from the fossil record.  In particular, I am intersted in investigating evidence for sulphur dioxide and other volcanic gases in the fossil record. My modern ecological research focuses on invasive species, plant chemistry, and plant biodiversity/responses to Anthropogenic pressures. 

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


  • PhD in Palaeobotany and Palaeoecology, University College Dublin
  • BSc in Botany, University College Dublin

Professional memberships

  • Fellow of the Linnean Society
  • Member of the Royal Society of Biology
  • Member of the Palaeontological Association
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Student education

I teach across a wide range of physical geography areas including ecology, geology, palaeobiology and field work. 

I contribute to the following modules:

  • Data analysis and tutorials
  • Level 1 Malham residential field course
  • Living Planet 
  • The Dynamic Environment of Mallorca
  • Skills for Physical Geographers
  • Timescales of Global Change (convenor)

I convene and supervise students on the Physical Geography dissertation module.

I am also interested in using novel technologies in student learning.

Research groups and institutes

  • Ecology and Global Change
<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="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>