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Department of Geography

 

Biogeography and Biogeomorphology

Biogeography and Biogeomorphology

The research of members of the Biogeography and Biogeomorphology Group is concerned with the interactions and feedbacks between organisms (including humans) and their environments in the past, present and uncertain future. While biogeography focuses on the environmental, physiological and ecological constraints to the dispersal of organisms from local to regional and global scales, biogeomorphology focuses on the direct and indirect influences of organisms on earth surface processes, as well as the role of geomorphology in ecosystem functioning and resilience.

Our research is interdisciplinary drawing on a wide range of both traditional and novel techniques. These include remote sensing (from satellite imagery through airborne platforms, such as LiDAR, to unmanned aerial vehicles), field surveys, laboratory analyses and experiments (e.g. using flumes), and computational modelling. Our aims are to provide a better understanding of Earth's environmental systems and improved management of human interaction with those systems. Our work thus has a strong geographical dimension. Examples include the linkages that are made between terrestrial and coastal systems via the fluxes of water and sediment from hillslopes, catchments, rivers, estuaries, salt marshes and beaches; climate-vegetation interactions; soil-vegetation interactions; land use dynamics and their impact on plant and animal ecosystems as well as the social and economic factors that are affected by as well as drive those dynamics. Members of the group work in the British Isles, in the Mediterranean, at high latitudes and in tropical environments, as well as non-location-based theoretical research. Further, we work at a variety of spatial scales from the microscopic to the continental.

Outcomes from our research include the acquisition of new scientific data; new technologies; theoretical solutions, and improved performance of numerical models. Our results have impact for knowledge production, science and policy, assessment of risk and resilience, and environmental management. We have strong links to members of the other research groups, in particular the Climate and Environmental Dynamics Research Group, the Glaciology and Glacial Geology Research Group and Natures, Cultures, Knowledges. We have strong links with UCCRI and CSaP within the University as our research relates closely to the fields of conservation, political ecology and sustainability.

Themes

The Biogeography and Biogeomorphology Research Group includes the following subgroups and themes:

Coasts

Coasts

Projects range from the broad study of coastal biologically-mediated landforms (such as coastal wetlands), how they form and how they respond to the dynamic drivers of sea level rise, tidal fluctuations, and wave climates, to research on how scientifically-based insights into the effect of those landforms on coastal flood risk can be used to achieve sustainable, multi-functional, coastal protection schemes.

Ecosystem processes

Ecosystem processes

This theme focuses on the study of interacting environmental processes in both marine and terrestrial environments. We seek to understand the spatiotemporal variations in ecosystem processes and the drivers of change, both natural and anthropogenic. Projects within this theme are wide ranging in scale including population ecology, community ecology, vegetation and landscape dynamics. We use a range of techniques in our work, including field observations and measurements, dendroecology and dendrochronology, microscopy, eDNA, remote sensing. We work worldwide, especially in mountainous, high-latitude (including the Southern Ocean), sub-arctic and Mediterranean locations.

Biophysical linkages

Biophysical linkages

Projects in this theme address the interaction between physical processes and the biological components of ecosystems (e.g. tidal and wave driven currents and their interaction with coastal vegetation or the role that vegetation plays in the preservation of tephra layers). This sub-group's research recognises that there are a range of environmental systems in which the biological and physical components are so intertwined with each other that they must be considered together rather than in separate sub-disciplines.

Complexity in social-ecological and environmental systems

Complexity in social-ecological and environmental systems

Ecosystems and the landforms and human societies with which they are associated reflect the interaction of a range of complex natural and anthropogenic forcing factors, operating over a range of space and time scales. The complexity that results from the interaction of such forcing factors, and the feedback that is generated within the complex human and natural systems that respond to them often necessitates the need for landscape-scale analyses and/or global-scale datasets. Sophisticated statistical and computational modelling approaches allow us to move towards the ultimate goal of understanding the likely impacts of future environmental or societal change.

Hazard resource dependancy and social resilience

Hazard resource dependency and social resilience

The research in this sub-group addresses the interface between the human use of the landscape and its ecosystems on the one hand, and the ecological and physical processes that operate to sustain that landscape and ecosystem on the other hand. From the conservation of biodiversity at the global scale to the conservation of specific habitats at the local scale, humans are intricately connected with their bio-physical environment, both influencing and being affected by its characteristics and its dynamism. An understanding of this connection is essential in a world in which the geographically uneven human use of natural resources is becoming an increasing challenge.

Group members

Dr Harriet Allen
Convenor
Vegetation structure, ecosystem responses to environmental change. Palaeoecology of Mediterranean ecosystems
Dr Mike Bithell Computational modelling; geophysical flows both granular and fluid. Agent-based modelling of human-environment interactions, particularly in effecting land use changes
Professor Ulf Büntgen What are the causes and consequences of changes in different, though intertwined environmental systems across space and time, and how can diverse tree-ring parameters and archives be compiled and analysed to provide answers to such and related inter-/cross-disciplinary research questions?
Dr Elizabeth Christie Resilience-Increasing Strategies for Coasts Toolkit
Dr Nick Cutler Spatio-temporal dynamics of long-term (decades to centuries) ecosystem development, particularly at high-latitudes
Ben Evans Foreshore Assessment Using Space Technology
Dr Iris Möller
Convenor
Biophysical interactions in coastal systems, including biogeomorphological responses to climate change forcing
Dr Gareth Rees Research interests predominantly in the development and application of spaceborne remote sensing techniques to monitoring the dynamics of Arctic glaciated and vegetated terrain
Dr David Christian Rose Building the European Biodiversity Observation Network
Professor Tom Spencer Hydrodynamics, sediment dynamics, ecological processes and human interactions in coastal ecosystems

Graduate students

The following graduate students are also associated with the group:

Helen Brooks Can nature protect us from the coastal impacts of climate change
Jennifer Brown Scaling up: using remote-sensing methods to estimate regional penguin population trajectories in a changing environment
Hannah Cubaynes
Convenor
Whales from space: studying ballen whales by satellite
Wenkai Guo The location and dynamics of Arctic treeline and its relationship with circumarctic snow cover variability
James Pollard Temporal and spatial patterns of shoreline change and exposure of coastal communities and ecosystems to future flood risks
Thomas Pryke Nature Conservation: Living with Environmental Change on the Suffolk Coast, United Kingdom
Rachel Seary Mangroves, fisheries and community livelihoods
Oliver Taherzadeh Global hydrology and the resource nexus
James Tempest Vegetation surface roughness quantification and relationships to flow attenuation over intertidal surfaces

Activities

Cambridge Coastal Research Unit (CCRU)

Cambridge Coastal Research Unit (CCRU)

The Cambridge Coastal Research Unit (CCRU) carries out fundamental research on coastal, estuarine and nearshore processes, landforms and ecosystems; environmental monitoring in the coastal zone; and research consultancies for both governmental and non-governmental agencies. In addition, it offers scientifically-informed advice on the sustainable management of coasts and coastal ecosystems.

Water Reading Group

Water Reading Group

This group meets fortnightly during the term, and involves academic staff and postgraduates from the Geography and Engineering Departments. It meets to discuss literature in physical hydrology, land-water interactions, ecosystem services and water management institutions relevant to current research interests; and to review draft papers, grant proposals, etc.

Agent-based modelling reading group

Agent-based modelling reading group

This group of postgrads and academic staff meets fortnightly during term to discuss modelling of the interaction between human and other environmental systems, using agent-based techniques to represent aspects of human behaviour.