Our research focuses on the interactions of plants with their environment and the processes that control the functioning of ecosystems. We investigate how trees, shrubs and herbs cope with changes in environmental conditions, for example, how they manage to survive with increasing temperatures or decreasing rainfall. We study the impact of the environment on plant physiological, biochemical and structural properties and on their interactions with other organisms (e.g. animals, microbes).
We examine how entire ecosystems respond to change, and how the cycling of different essential elements, like nitrogen, carbon or water, is influenced by environmental changes or disturbances like fire. We measure how much carbon is absorbed by natural ecosystems, and quantify how climate variation and fire influence their growth and their uptake or release of greenhouse gases.
Our research allows the detailed assessment of plant performance under environmental stress and this allows us to predict which plant species will persist or not under future climate and disturbance regimes. This means we are able to assess the vulnerability of tree species in native forests or urban streets, and to select plants for restored or designed ecosystems like green roofs and walls.
Our research also provides an assessment of critical ecosystem services, like carbon storage, water cycling, and climate amelioration, and how these are impacted by management decisions or disturbance. This information assists managers of natural and designed ecosystems to develop policies for environmental sustainability.
Our research tries to answer the following questions:
- What limits the growth and survival of plants?
- How do different plants respond to environmental stresses like drought and extreme heat, and what does this mean for their persistence under future climates?
- To what extent will plant responses to environmental stresses impact on the provision of ecosystem services like carbon storage, water cycling and climate amelioration?
Answers to these questions are central to informing land management, plant conservation, and climate adaptation and mitigation policies, and to identify how we can sustainably live within our changing natural environment.