Prof Tim Baker
My research aims to understand the past, current and future patterns of carbon storage and biodiversity in tropical forests. My work explores how the diversity of tropical forests arose, their resilience to environmental change and how to manage and conserve these ecosystems.
I am committed to integrating the expertise that I have developed through my research within sustainable management, conservation and training natural resource managers in the tropics. I worked with the secretariat of the Convention of Biological Diversity as co-organiser of the UNFCCC COP20 meeting ‘Biodiversity and Climate Change: from science to policymakers’ and as co-author of the Lima Declaration on Biodiversity and Climate Change, Lima, Peru. I have taught forest carbon cycling and data analysis courses in Peru organised in collaboration with the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana (IIAP), WWF-Peru and the Missouri Botanical Garden, some of which were funded as part of an Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation research programme Capacity Building project that I led. I have also participated as an invited lecturer on a Tropical Biology Association (TBA) course in Kibale Forest National Park, Uganda. I have also advised Conservation International (2006), WWF-Peru (2012) and the Peruvian Forest Service (2015) on tropical forest inventory design and analysis. Public outreach is also a key component of my work: three short documentaries of our work have featured on Peruvian television, and my work has also regularly featured on the BBC (goo.gl/TZSPB2, goo.gl/3mE26a, goo.gl/QRTsHz) and Mongabay (goo.gl/OU0C7b, goo.gl/NWJrtb, goo.gl/GHZC8T).
My research involves wide-ranging collaborations across evolutionary biology, palaeoecology, ecology, ecosystem science, vegetation modelling and remote sensing, and focuses on three broad questions:
1. How resilient are intact tropical forests to environmental change?
A key part of my work focuses on understanding how the structure and composition of intact tropical forests is changing: I lead the project 'Monitoring protected areas in Peru to increase forest resilience to climate change' which is quantifying how forests in the Peruvian Andes Amazon region are responding to climate change and integrating this information within the management strategies of the Peruvian Protected Area authority ($1.5 million; Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation). I am particularly interested in 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.
My previous research has described large-scale patterns in the carbon stocks of Amazonian forests and been used to guide the development of vegetation models and calibrate and validate remote sensing products. As part of the EU funded AMAZALERT consortium, Michelle Johnson and I led the intercomparison of observational data from the RAINFOR and ForestPlots initiatives with DGVM predictions of aboveground biomass and woody productivity across Amazonia.
2. How did the diversity of tropical forests arise and what are implications of evolutionary history for ecosystem function and conservation today?
Understanding the mechanisms that have led to the high diversity of tropical forests has inspired ecologists for centuries. I am particularly interested in the role that ecological processes have played in the evolution of tropical plants: how adaptations to different environmental conditions and constraints imposed by different life history strategies have shaped the diversification of tropical trees. For example, my work has shown how species-rich groups of Amazonian trees share the key trait of short generation times which has promoted their diversification over geological time. My work also explores the legacy of evolutionary history for current patterns of ecosystem function in tropical forests: in work led by Fernanda Coelho de Sousa, we showed how tropical forests with greater evolutionary diversity – species from a wider range of the tree of life – had higher wood productivity.
3. How can we conserve tropical peatland landscapes?
Tropical peatlands are hotspots of carbon storage but highly sensitive to disturbance and changing climate. My work focuses on Amazonian peatlands where we have mapped the distribution of these carbon-dense ecosystems for the first time. This work has supported a $6 million investment in conservation in this region by the UN-backed Green Climate Fund, and I actively work with regional and national government organisations to promote sustainable management of these ecosystems by linking their role in carbon storage with the implementation of sustainable ‘bio-businesses’ led by local communities.<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