Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Geography


Abstracts are not currently available in GtR for all funded research. This is normally because the abstract was not required at the time of proposal submission, but may be because it included sensitive information such as personal details.

Planned Impact

Most conservation and science projects in the tropics focus on the rain forest biome, neglecting the fact that 50% of the lowland tropics is covered by dry biomes such as dry forests or savannas. These dry areas are home to 30% of the global population, and are hence massively impacted by human activity. This project focuses on the dry forests of the Caatinga region of North East Brazil, which have suffered from scientific neglect, destruction, and lack of conservation attention, with only <1% of these forests included in Brazil's National Protected Area Network. Despite this, the dry forests of the Caatinga house a high level of unique (endemic) plant species that are adapted to the region's severe and erratic droughts. These plants will be a valuable resource as climates change especially for the 15% of Brazil's population that lives in the Caatinga region who depend on these woodlands for ecosystem services and more specific needs such as firewood.
Our project will increase our understanding on how dry biomes contribute to global biogeochemical cycles and how their unique species react to environmental changes, expanding ecological and biodiversity monitoring in Brazil beyond Amazonia and into the Caatinga. The project will build a platform from which Brazil, and Latin America more generally, can monitor more effectively biodiversity and ecosystem services in dry biomes.
We aim to develop whole-system knowledge for the Caatinga to inform responsible management of this unique environment at national and regional political level in Brazil. Brazil has an obligation to monitor its biodiversity and carbon stocks under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Aichi 2020 Biodiversity Targets, but most previous work has been focused on Amazonia. In particular, this project is relevant to achieving Strategic Goal 3 ('...safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity through direct interventions such as increasing the coverage, effectiveness and representativeness of protected areas and other area-based conservation measures...') and Strategic Goal 4 ('...safeguarding and enhancement of the benefits of biodiversity and ecosystem services to human societies') of the Aichi targets.
Our project will provide impetus and build capacity for conservation action in the Caatinga. We aim to build bridges between scientists and policy makers who can influence their protection and sustainable management at federal and state level via two policy meetings in Brasilia and Salvador. We will also build environmental science capacity in Brazil for undergraduate and postgraduate students in cutting edge methodologies in biodiversity and ecological science, and involve local communities in the collection of our biodiversity and ecological data. Our project will therefore build long-term capacity to monitor species composition, carbon stock, biogeochemical cycles, vegetation dynamics, and biodiversity loss in the Caatinga.
The project will also benefit local people in NE Brazil through delivery of user-friendly information about plant species useful for ecological restoration, crop wild relatives, minor crops, and useful plants. In the long-term, our science will provide information essentially to successful restoration of Caatinga, for example by a better understanding of the genetic diversity of its plants. Such restoration could have major regional and global ecological effects - for example it has been estimated that large scale dry forest restoration in Latin America could generate up to 8Pg of carbon storage. In the long-term, the knowledge of biome-level ecological processes gained during the project will enable the sustainable management of ecosystem services that underlie human wellbeing in Brazil and more widely.
Description We have provided all the data management support for a new network of plots in Brazil's Caatinga (the first ground network for Caatinga ecology). As per our role in the proposal we have developed unique data management solutions for the challenges of very dry forests (lots of stems, lots of multi-stem trees, multiple measurement points, dynamic systems). Data from all Nordeste plots is stored at, and data owners can manage, curate, share, and analyse their data there on forest biomass, growth, dynamics, change, and species composition. Our achievement provides a foundation for the networked science emerging from the other partners who were funded for discovery.
Exploitation Route Data from all Nordeste plots is stored at, and data owners can manage, curate, share, and analyse their data there on forest biomass, growth, dynamics, change, and species composition. Our achievement provides a foundation for the networked science emerging from the other partners who were funded for discovery.

It ALSO provides data management solution for other scientists needing to manage dry forest data from anywhere in the tropics, and has already been employed for this for additional research partners working in Africa.
Sectors Education


Description SECO
Amount £3,700,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/T012722/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2021 
End 04/2026
Title A comprehensive protocol for tropical dry forest inventory 
Description The DryFlor Field Manual for Plot Establishment and Remeasurement. First edition, 2020. In English, Spanish, and Portuguese. The DRYFLOR Plot Protocol is designed for studies with, but not limited to, the following objectives: 1. Quantify long term changes in plot floristics, structure, biomass, and turnover. 2. Relate plot current floristics, structure, ecophysiology, biomass and dynamics to local climate, soil properties and land-use history. 3. Understand the relationships among floristics, ecosystem function, productivity, mortality and biomass. 4. Use relationships of (1) to (3) to understand how changes in climate may affect the floristics, biomass and productivity of dry forests as a whole, and inform biome-scale models of carbon dynamics. 5. Examine variability of taxonomic, functional and phylogenetic tree diversity across dry forests, and its relationship to soils and climate. 6. Facilitate comparisons of (1) to (5) among dry forests and other biomes. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Standardising the way in which the tropical dry forests are measured is critical for comparison 
Title Developed Method for Curating Long-Term Monitoring Plots in Complex Dry Forest Vegetation 
Description is a tool used to archive, curate, analyse permanent plot data. Dry forests, especially the Caatinga, present a special challenge analytically because they require tracking multstemmed individuals. Thus: (1) different stems (ramets) are not necessarily different individual trees biologically (genets); and (2) each stem (ramet) needs to be measured at multiple points of measurement to enable comparisons with wetter forests (typically measured at H=1.3m) and drier systems such as savannas (often measured at eg H=0.3m); and (3) dry forests in Brazil often have trees. shrubs, and lianas with extremely complex branching patterns and topologies. All these factors complicate field work and data management. During NORDESTE the plot ecological team led by Oliver Phillips and project colleagues at Edinburgh and Leeds together with Ana Carla Aquino as the Brazilian field leader and together with our Brazilian BIO-RED partners, have developed new protocols to capture this information in the field, and new database tools to store, curate, and analyse it at Programming for this was provided by the developer, Dr Mark Burkitt. This provides a significant step forward in our capability to monitor dry forests over long periods. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This development is being trialled in NORDESTE currently. During 2018 it will be made available to another NERC project ("SEOSAW", led by Casey Ryan at Edinburgh) to support their databasing of African miombo forests and to the Newton-NERC project partners of the BIO-RED project to support databasing of Cerrado systems, and eventually to all users as a 'dry forest' option 
Description It is ALL FOUR of the options given above (for which I had to choose one) provides a unique place for everyone who wants to measure, monitor, and understand the world's forests, and especially the tropical forests. Currently Forest tracks more than 1,500 forest plots in 35 countries, recording the work of more than 1,000 people. aims to promote science synergies across countries and continents, and enable partners to access, analyse and manage the information from their long-term plots. aims to help forest scientists and forest people worldwide, especially in tropical countries. includes a web application with a modular design. The front end was developed using framework and it interacts with a Microsoft SQL server database. The underlying database is a relational database which utilizes more than 50 tables to store plot and individual tree information. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2011 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact has supported more than 100 research outputs and research products provides multiple database and analytical tools used by forest researchers and practitioners, especially in the UK and South America. With Newton support (BC Institutional Links and NERC Newton Fund) during 2016, 2017, and 2018 we are extending its use to partners in Amazonas (Brazil), Mato Grosso (Brazil) and to partners in Indonesia. As of 2018, Google Analytics shows there has already been increased uptake in Brazil, where the proportion of active users of ForestPlots has more than doubled from 7 to 15% of all users, and where the number of active sessions analysing Amazon forest data is now ca. 100 per month. 
Title Nordeste Forest Plot inventory records 
Description Between March 2018 and 2019, we have uploaded 24 * 0.5 ha inventory plots which form the core of the Nordeste project. These plots, with tree by tree data on identity (species), location, diameter, height, and biomass are curated now at During the coming year together with Nordeste team members all these plots censused with RAINFOR-NORDESTE will be quality controlled, and additional plot data incorporated. We (Leeds) are doing some of this ourselves, and providing support to the FAESP funded data technician Ana Carla Aquino to ensure she has every opportunity to learn and apply these data management protocols. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The data have only just been uploaded 
Description Multiple collaborations enabled via 
Organisation Universities UK International
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Via we are entering into dozens of new collaborations each year, mostly academic exchanges of data, skills, training, and with increasing research outputs as well as some support for science policy. These are detailed here where they are updated regularly is global-leading research infrastructure hosted at the University of Leeds. The partnerships are worldwide, and powering global collaborations including much support for developing country scientists. This particular NERC-funded project has contributed to the development of the shared resource and particularly to the successful networking with our many partners in South America.
Collaborator Contribution is led from the University of Leeds by Professor Oliver Phillips and colleagues, but it exists as a collective effort whose benefits and contributions are widely shared. Partners contribute immensely valuable field data from the tropics, and ideas for projects which they are now leading. They also contribute funded work (ie is now growing more due to NON-UK funded research than to UK-funded research). UK funding has therefore acted as a powerful multiplier.
Impact There are too many to list and the outputs increase month-on-month. Outputs are reported on the ForestPlots website, eg
Start Year 2016