Prof Tim Baker
Tropical forest landscapes play a key role in the Earth system as a store of carbon and biodiversity, source of global commodities and home to a wide variety of rural and urban communities. My research explores how the diversity of tropical forests arose, the resilience of these ecosystems to environmental change and how to manage and conserve remaining areas of intact forest.
My work involves wide-ranging collaborations across evolutionary biology, palaeoecology, ecology, ecosystem science, vegetation modelling, remote sensing and environmental economics, and focuses on three broad questions:
1. How can we conserve tropical peatland landscapes?
Intact peatlands across the tropics contain some of the highest concentrations of carbon of any ecosystem on the planet. Keeping this carbon in the ground is important for meeting national and international goals to reduce the rate of climate change. My research aims to understand the distribution and ecology of tropical peatlands, as well as identifying and supporting pathways to manage these ecosystems sustainably. Our work mapped the most extensive peatland complex in Amazonia for the first time, in northern Peru (en español, aquí). This work supported a $6 million investment in conservation in this region by the UN-backed Green Climate Fund. I work with government organisations, NGOs and companies to promote sustainable management of these ecosystems by linking their role in carbon storage with the implementation of ‘bio-businesses’ led by local communities. Sustainable harvesting of the fruit of the abundant Mauritia flexuosa, or aguaje, palm is an important part of these initiatives. We have shown that sustainable harvesting of the fruit of this palm has a potential value that is similar to timber harvesting or oil extraction. Watch this video to find out more (en español, aquí):
2. How resilient are intact tropical forests to environmental change?
Understanding the trajectory of the structure and composition of intact tropical forests is important for understanding whether these ecosystems increase or reduce the rate of climate change. My research explores the role that biodiversity plays in enhancing the resilience of tropical forests to environmental change. In Ghana, we have shown how forest composition has altered in recent decades to favour more drought tolerant species in response to a marked reduction in rainfall. Surprisingly, this change is associated with an increase in forest biomass: the changes in biodiversity have increased the resilience of forest carbon stocks to long-term drought. We have shown that similar trends are also found in lowland Amazonian forests. I led the project 'Monitoring protected areas in Peru to increase forest resilience to climate change' which quantified how the biodiversity and carbon stocks are changing in lowland and montane forests in Peru. This work on the trajectory of intact tropical forests is underpinned by the ForestPlots.net initiative; a global collaboration to collect, compile and analyse long-term, on-the-ground data on forest dynamics from plots across the tropics.
3. How did the diversity of tropical forests arise and what are the implications of evolutionary history for ecosystem function and conservation today?
I am fascinated by the mechanisms that have led to the high diversity of tropical forests. My research explores the role that ecological processes have played in the evolution of tropical plants: how adaptations to different environmental conditions and variation in life history strategies have shaped the diversification of tropical trees. My work has shown how species-rich lineages of Amazonian trees share the key trait of short generation times: a ‘live fast, die young’ strategy underlies high rates of diversification within the tropical flora. Our work has also documented patterns of evolutionary diversity across the forests of the neotropics and Americas, and explored the legacy of evolutionary history for current patterns of ecosystem function: we showed how tropical forests with greater evolutionary diversity – species from a wider range of the tree of life – have higher wood productivity.<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, Department of Plant and Soil Science, University of Aberdeen
- MA, St Catharine's College, University of Cambridge
I teach undergraduate courses on ecology, conservation and data analysis.
Research groups and institutes
- Ecology and Global Change