Evidence for the impact of climate change on the structure and function of forests across the world is growing. Of particular concern is the growing frequency and severity of droughts in some regions, which can cause crown dieback and ultimately tree mortality. Resilience to, and recovery rates from drought are uncertain and the legacy effects of droughts on individual tree and whole-forest structure may be long lasting.
This project will undertake research into the impacts of historical droughts on tree morphology and stand structure in Spain, a highly biodiverse region where drought is a major control of ecological processes. Under climate change, Spain it predicted to become hotter and drier, so the resilience of Spanish forests to withstand or adapt to this future is a key research question. In this project the student will investigate the impact of drought on the morphology of a range of key species using terrestrial laser scanning (TLS), a technology capable of reconstructing three-dimensional properties of trees to very high accuracy. The project will assess long-term impacts of historical drought and ecological ‘memory’ using plots with known drought histories, quantifying impacts on tree structural properties such as branching, leaf area, crown density, biomass and neighbourhood interactions. Building on techniques developed by current PhD student Harry Owen (cohort 3), the student will work closely with Spanish ecologists in Madrid and undertake fieldwork to collect new data using this novel technology.