About us

TPR Team


Principal Investigator

Professor Frank Mayle

Frank Mayle

I am a tropical palaeoecologist interested in the long-term dynamics and interactions between Neotropical ecosystems, climate change, and human land use over centennial to multi-millennial timescales.  My lab specialises in the analysis of fossil pollen and charcoal from radiocarbon-dated lake and bog sediments to reconstruct past environmental change.  My first coring expedition to South America was in 1995 in a remote, but spectacular, corner of Amazonian Bolivia – Noel Kempff Mercado National Park – which sparked my long-term interest in Quaternary forest-savanna dynamics.  Since then, I have been fortunate enough to expand my fieldwork across Amazonian Bolivia – via close collaboration with botanists at the Noel Kempff Mercado Natural History Museum of Santa Cruz.  Ongoing collaboration with archaeologists, palaeoenvironmental scientists, and modellers – at both UK and Brazilian institutions – has enabled me to expand my research across much of Brazil, encompassing both Amazonian and Atlantic Forest ecosystems.  My research has been funded by NERC, AHRC, and The Leverhulme Trust in the UK, as well as FAPESP and CNPq in Brazil, and National Geographic in the US.

I have a BSc in Botany from the University of Reading (1986), an MSc in Palynology from the University of Sheffield (1988), and a PhD in Palaeoecology from the University of New Brunswick, Canada (1993).  I held a postdoctoral position at Royal Holloway, University of London (1993-94) and took up my first academic post at the University of Leicester in 1994, before moving to the University of Edinburgh in 2004 and returning full circle to the University of Reading in 2013, where I am currently Professor in Tropical Paleoecology.


Post Doctoral Researchers


Dr Macarena Cárdenas


I am Palaeoecologist and plant lover. Biologist in formation, with a Master and PhD in environmental change and Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction. I first started working in Palaeoecology during my BSc (Hons) and I have been working in this area ever since. My research interests are around paleobotany, palaeoecology, palaeo-ethnobotany, and I like to integrate knowledge to understand long-term vegetation dynamics, understand the interaction between climate change, human and ecosystems and to evaluate resilience of both human and vegetation when facing climate change.

My previous research has been focused in understanding climatic events/changes and human impact in Central and Southern Patagonia and on Hyper-diverse Amazonian Ecosystems. Those projects involved understanding palaoenvironmental megafauna extinction and human arrival during the last deglaciation (c. 17,000 cal yrs BP), and the massive landscape disturbance during the European settlement (c. 1890 AD) both in in Southern Patagonia. I also worked in determinating for the first time the environmental characteristics of the environment in western Amazonia area during the previous Interglacial-Glacial cycle. In my current research, ‘Je Old Landscapes of Southern Brazil’, I am focusing in understanding the creation and transformation of southern east Brazil landscapes and their relationship with the emergence of social complexity during the past two millennia. Visit the project’s facebook page by clicking here.


Dr John Carson


I could never decide which I preferred: earth science or history. That’s how I ended-up studying for a BSc in Geology and Archaeology at the University of Birmingham, and that interest in the interface between human land use and the natural environment has stuck with me throughout my academic career.  During my PhD at the University of Edinburgh, I gained expertise in reconstructing past environments (palaeoecology) in the Neotropics. Now my research centres around using those techniques to understand how vegetation in Amazonia has changed over time in response to both natural factors, such as past climate change, and native human influences, such as land management.

Some central themes I try to cover in my research are: long-term, climate driven vegetation dynamics in Amazonia; the scale and nature of pre-European peoples’ impact on Amazonian environments; native agriculture; plant domestication; integrating palaeoecological and archaeological data; the development of palaeoecological techniques (especially pollen and other microfossils); making palaeoecological reconstruction relevant for modern conservation practice.


PhD students


Richard Smith


I gained my BSc in Geography from the University of Southampton in 2011, during which I got my first taste of palaeoecological research. My undergraduate dissertation involved ‘chironomid’ analysis of a transect of Alaskan lakes.  This project won the QRA national undergraduate dissertation prize for 2011.  I then went on to complete my MSc in Applied Meteorology and Climatology from the University of Birmingham in 2012.  During this course, I picked up a particular interest in climate modelling.  My postgraduate thesis focused on the statistical downscaling of GCM simulated precipitation for the past millennium.  Part of this project involved comparisons of the model output to palaeoclimatic reconstructions.

After completing my MSc, I took a couple of years out of academia working as a web/software developer in Skipton, North Yorkshire.  Then in 2014 I made the move down to the University of Reading to start my NERC funded PhD in Environmental Science.  My PhD project is focused on improving understanding of the long term impact of drought upon Amazonian forests.  Particular focus will be on what we can learn from comparing the geographic distribution of the ecotonal regions of southwest Amazonia under today’s humid climate versus the much drier climate of the mid-Holocene (~6 ka BP).  This will involve a palaeoecological reconstruction of mid-Holocene vegetation using fossil pollen from a transect of Amazonian lakes, as well as a combination of remote-sensing, GIS and environmental modelling techniques.


Heather Plumpton 


I graduated in 2013 from the University of Cambridge with a BA in Natural Sciences, specialising in plant sciences and ecology. My undergraduate dissertation utilised tree cores to investigate the effect of forest-stand diversity and species composition on carbon storage in Finnish forests. Following graduation, I worked as a research assistant for 9 months as part of the ISPA group (http://www6.bordeaux-aquitaine.inra.fr/ispa) at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research in Bordeaux, using tree ring isotopes to look at the effect of elevated CO2 and stress events on the physiological functioning of pine trees (Pinus taeda).

In my PhD with the Tropical Palaeoecology Research Group at the University of Reading I am interested in looking at ecological patterns over much longer time scales. I will use palaeoenvironment proxies, such as fossilised pollen and phytoliths, to reconstruct vegetation responses to climatic changes. In particular, I am investigating the long-term impacts of a mid-Holocene (~6000 years ago) drought on ecotonal regions of the Amazon rainforest in northern Bolivia. I am also interested in how plant-climate interactions are represented in Dynamic Global Vegetation Models (DGVMs) and how this feeds into Global Climate Model predictions for future plant responses to climate change. Research interests:

  • Palaeoecology of the Neotropics throughout the Holocene (~last 10,000 years)
  • Investigating ecological questions using palaeoecological techniques
  • Plant-climate interactions; particularly drought response, resilience and resistance and how this influences ecosystem structure
  • Representation of plant-drought interactions in DVGMs


Oliver Wilson

Oliver Wilson

I first realised that plants actually were interesting in my second week studying biological sciences, on a rainy day in the University of Oxford Botanic Garden. This impression has only grown from there, and after graduating from Oxford in 2011 I went on to an MSc in ethnobotany (the study of the relationships between people and plants) at the University of Kent and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

In the couple of years after finishing my MSc I worked in the herbarium at Kew and for Botanic Gardens Conservation International, before moving back down to Kent to do a PGCE. I was a science teacher in Canterbury until starting my PhD in January 2017, but will be continuing to teach in my role as a graduate teaching assistant in the School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Sciences.

My PhD project is focused on the highly biodiverse but threatened Araucaria forest of southern Brazil and its relations with people and climate through time (as part of a broader AHRC-FAPESP funded research project). Studies of fossil pollen and archaeological sites show that the forest expanded rapidly about 1000 years ago, closely followed by a flourishing of the Jê people, for whom Araucaria angustifolia trees were hugely important – all during a time of significant climate change. I’m hoping to establish the roles played by people and climate in the forest’s expansion, which in turn should help us to predict how the critically endangered Araucaria trees will respond to future climate change.

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