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Ecosystem conservation and resource management

The broad aim of this theme is to understand how ecosystems work and can be sustainably managed. This incorporates the impact of environmental change on ecosystems and how climate change may be mitigated through improved use and management of soil, farm, forest, wetland and marine systems and resources.

Specific areas of research include:

  • Improving fundamental understanding of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycling in soils, agricultural, forest, catchment and marine systems; then developing and testing new management methods to sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve water quality.
  • Determining how environmental and resource use, and environmental change, impact on biodiversity, ecosystem function and services; developing new approaches to deliver multiple objectives such as conservation and food security.
  • The impacts of environmental change on plants, including the development of a mechanistic understanding of plant stress tolerance focusing on signalling mechanisms; impacts on plant interactions and identifying predictive metabolite biomarkers for environmental stress.
  • Providing practical solutions for the mitigation of climate change, including the development of high-yielding dedicated energy crops adapted to current and future environments and conversion technologies.
  • Developing a greater understanding of the lignocellulose complex and biopolymers in plant biomass to promote their extraction, modification and exploitation; leading to the development of new techniques for bio-refining and fermenting biomass to produce energy and high value chemicals.

This theme was a major focus of the £2.8M HEFCW interdisciplinary Bangor-Aberystwyth Centre for Integrated Research in the Rural Environment (2006-2012).

BEAA research council-funded projects in the field of ecosystem conservation and resource management focus on four topics:

a)     Nitrogen cycling, elevated CO2 impacts and biodiversity in polar and boreal ecosystems. NERC grants in this area include Short circuits in the nitrogen cycle regulate ecosystem development in the terrestrial Antarctic and The boreal nitrogen gap: size, fate and impacts of nitrogen fixation in Fennoscandia forest ecosystems ( both led by Professor Davey Jones in collaboration with Professor Tom DeLuca (formerly at Bangor); Do arctic plant-soil communities acclimate to long term elevated CO2 exposure? (Dr Dylan Gwynn-Jones); and Are glacier surfaces the last refuge of an evolutionarily ancient lineage of unknown fungi? (Dr Arwyn Edwards).


b)    New understanding of plant biopolymers and metabolomes, funded through BBSRC Institute Strategic Programme grants on bioenergy, biomass yield and conversion led by Professor Iain Donnison and individual project grants such as his BBSRC-funded project Optimisation of reed canary grass as a native European energy crop and Understanding processes determining soil carbon balances under perennial bioenergy crops (NERC); and the BBSRC-LINK-funded project Agronomic processes to optimise galanthamine content of daffodil biomass led by Professor Deri Tomos. These are linked to the highly successful joint Aberystwyth-Bangor-Swansea University BEACON Biorefining Centre of Excellence for Wales (, which has been awarded the EU RegioStars Award 2014 for Sustainable Growth: Green Growth & Jobs through Bio-Economy.

c)     Plant phenotyping and breeding for environmental sustainability, e.g. through the BBSRC-funded project Roots for the future - a systematic approach to root design led by Dr Mike Humphries.

d)     Interdisciplinary research in ecosystem services, firstly through a joint Bangor-Aberystwyth project Can capturing global ecosystem service values reduce poverty? ( led by Dr Julia Jones and funded by the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation programme of NERC, ESRC and DFID. A second NERC-funded project is Hydro-dynamic drivers of malaria transmission hazard in Africa led by Professor Chris Thomas. BEAA is also participating in two projects funded by the NERC Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability programme: A hierarchical approach to the examination of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem service flows across coastal margins ( (Dr Martin Skov) and Diversity in upland rivers for ecosystem service sustainability ( (Professor Mike Christie). In a new BBSRC-funded project Modelling economic impact and strategies to increase resilience against tree disease outbreaks under the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity initiative, Professor John Healey is collaborating with the Universities of Stirling and Cambridge and Forest Research.

Aberystwyth and Bangor also receive substantial BBSRC funding for their joint Advanced Training Partnership in Sustainable and Efficient Food Production under the leadership of Professor Jamie Newbold (

Another major focus of BEAA research is mitigating the emissions of greenhouse gases:

a)     from agricultural systems: Professor Dave Chadwick leads the project Improving the agricultural greenhouse gas emissions inventory – nitrous oxide ( and Professor Jamie Newbold’s projects include Estimates of future agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation in China; REDNEX Innovative and practical management approaches to reduce nitrogen excretion by ruminants and Integration of mitigation and adaptation options for sustainable livestock production under climate change (funded by Defra and EU).

b)     by carbon sequestration in wetlands through the research of the Wolfson Carbon Capture Laboratory led by Professor Chris Freeman with funding from the Wolfson Foundation and Royal Society.

A major programme of work on sustainable fisheries is led by Professor Michel Kaiser with funding from the European Fisheries Fund, EU FP8, the Isle of Man Government and Industry. The Benthis project studies the impact of fishing on benthic ecosystems (

The Centre for Evidence-Based Conservation ( led by Professor Andrew Pullin receives research funding from a wide range of sources including the World Bank’s Global Environment Facility, EU and NERC. It acts as a hub for the international Collaboration for Environmental Evidence (


Notable joint Bangor-Aberystwyth papers in the area of Ecosystem Conservation and Resource Management include:

McGovern, ST; Evans, CD; Dennis, P; Walmsley, CA; Turner, A; McDonald, MA (2013) Resilience of upland soils to long term environmental changes. Geoderma 197: 36-42. DOI: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2012.12.018

Quilliam, RS; Glanville, HC; Wade, SC; Jones, DL (2013) Life in the 'charosphere' - Does biochar in agricultural soil provide a significant habitat for microorganisms? Soil Biology & Biochemistry 65: 287-293. DOI: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2013.06.004

Boisa, N; Bird, G; Brewer, PA; Dean, JR; Entwistle, JA; Kemp, SJ; Macklin, MG (2013) Potentially harmful elements (PHEs) in scalp hair, soil and metallurgical wastes in Mitrovica, Kosovo: The role of oral bioaccessibility and mineralogy in human PHE exposure. Environment International 60: 56-70. DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2013.07.014

Christie, M; Gibbons, J (2011) The effect of individual 'ability to choose' (scale heterogeneity) on the valuation of environmental goods. Ecological Economics 70: 2250-2257. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2011.07.011

Charlton, A; Elias, R; Fish, S; Fowler, P; Gallagher, J (2009) The biorefining opportunities in Wales: Understanding the scope for building a sustainable, biorenewable economy using plant biomass. Chemical Engineering Research & Design 87: 1147-1161. DOI: 10.1016/j.cherd.2009.06.013


Further details about staff working in this area:



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