Heather Plumpton

I have always been interested in how plants respond to environmental change, and most particularly trying to work out how they may cope with climate change in the future. As part of my BA in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge I used tree cores to investigate the effect of forest-stand diversity and species composition on carbon storage in Finnish forests. Following graduation, I conducted research into the effect of elevated CO2 and stress events on the physiological functioning of pine trees (Pinus taeda) using tree ring isotopes as a research assistant for the ISPA group (http://www6.bordeaux-aquitaine.inra.fr/ispa) at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research in Bordeaux.

In my PhD with the Tropical Palaeoecology Research Group I am interested in looking at ecological patterns over much longer time scales. I will use palaeo-environmental 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 the tropical semi-deciduous dry forest of Chiquitania, near the Bolivia-Brazil border. This dry forest is both understudied and highly threatened, primarily by deforestation for agriculture. Understanding how this ecosystem responded to drought in the past may help us predict how it will respond to future climate change-induced drought in the region, which will be key to its conservation.

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
  • Using phytoliths as a palaeoecological tool

To read Heather’s blog posts, click here.