Research Focus

My work focuses on how plants, biodiversity and complex ecosystems respond to environmental change. Answering this question is critical to developing evidence-based policies to protect the environment and human well-being in the context of global change.

New evidences in my research chiefly come directly from studying plants, the natural environment and large-scale, long-term ecological studies. I am a holistic thinker at ease with developing new understanding of coupled human-nature systems that transcend explanatory-response relationships. I apply complex multivariate and structural equation modelling techniques to comprehend the multidimensional and interactive nature of ecological relationships within ecosystems. Based on such quantitative work, I also develop positive narratives to serve as guiding models in conservation.

Focal themes include:

Acceleration ecological recovery

To some extent all ecosystems recover following degradation, however, they inevitably turn into something different, novel ecosystems or Anthropocene habitats. Moreover, the conditions and timescales for ecological recovery remains poorly known in most cases. Understanding this process, in terms of ecosystem health, services, biodiversity, etc. has never been more important today. Environmental degradation is soaring around the world while being increasingly counterbalanced by the desire to reverse damages and return to sustainable ecosystem exploitation.

Using case studies, I quantify the best conditions and timescales for ecological recovery. This new knowledge, laying ground for environmental optimism, has the potential to accelerate ecological recovery by informing conservation and environmental management around the world and by guiding decision making when degradation is inevitable to sustain society.

For example, I am currently interested in post-industrial ecological recovery and recolonisation by coastal top predators in the Tees estuary. This estuary was historically one of the first to experience degradation by heavy industrialisation but is now set on a recovery pathway – a unique and ideal subject of study.

However, post-industrial landscapes do not hold all knowledge to accelerate ecological recovery. In more natural systems, beaver re-introduction is now becoming widespread in the UK and I am interested in understanding the balance of ecosystem services and disservices induced: improved botanical biodiversity, decreased risks of flood but also potentially further wetland methane emission contributing to climate change.

In addition, I continue highlighting case studies from the deep past such as about the late-Quaternary extinction and their consequences on megafaunal ecosystem engineers and provide others with the methodology to do so. This work supports rewilding projects around the world by providing positive narratives around species replacement, substitutions and, why not?, de-extinctions.

Pollen production in the Anthropocene

I am also initiating highly original research on the effect of global environmental changes onto pollen production. Ecosystems provide services but their pollen production is typically perceived as a dis-service by pollen-allergy sufferers and health services. Global change is a strong driver modifying pollen production and transportation, sometimes with dramatic consequences for health services. However, there is only very limited quantitative understanding of how multiple environmental factors affect pollen production and pollen allergenicity for individual plant species, let alone for whole ecosystems.

There are far-reaching applications to this work, including in public health, with prediction pollen-allergy prevalence and hospitalisation; ecology with the regeneration in natural systems; and in climate science, with calibration of past climate to support climate change modelling.