We use high-resolution remote sensing to understand how forests are responding to global environmental changes including logging, land management and climate change, addressing key issues in ecology and conversation.

“Conserving the world’s dwindling biological diversity is one of the most pressing issues facing humankind. I lead a research group that is actively engaged in addressing these issues, as well as tackling more fundamental ecological questions. Focusing on forest conservation and ecology, my research uses large databases and modern computational approaches, alongside traditional field approaches.”

Head of Group – Professor David Coomes


Landmark British Ecological Society Report

Our head of group Professor David Coomes led the report’s Woodland Chapter. Nature has enormous potential to fight climate change and biodiversity loss in the UK. “For large-scale tree planting to be effective in capturing carbon, we will need to avoid species-rich grasslands, peat and other organic soils. Our focus should be on areas of low-quality grassland. However, this will reduce the UK’s capacity to produce meat and dairy, meaning a shift in our diets would be needed to avoid importing more of these products and offshoring our carbon footprint elsewhere.” Read more

CEOS biomass protocol has been endorsed

David Coomes was involved in an international team that developed protocols for the production and validation of satellite-based woody aboveground biomass products. The report documents accepted good practices in an open and transparent manner, that is scientifically defensible. It represents the current state of knowledge for satellite biomass remote sensing and includes a summary of current knowledge and data gaps toward operational validation of products at a global scale. Read more

Treetops protect forest life from global warming

The cooling leaf canopy protects forest organisms from extreme temperatures and has a significant influence on their adaptation to global warming. This study led by Florian Zellweger appeared as the cover story on Science.

Monitoring biodiversity by a new, hands-off approach

Sarab Sethi was on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme Sarab has developed a device that records soundscapes over long time-frames, with minimal human intervention. It’s being deployed in all  different natural habitats to monitor the health of ecosystems using sound. Read more

The INTEGRAL Project

Debmita Bandyopadhyay, and David Coomes are part of the INTEGRAL (INdia remoTE imaGeRy AnaLysis) team.  The INTEGRAL project is “an innovative collaboration between people collecting remote sensing data and researchers developing the technology to analyse those remotely gathered images to answer meaningful questions.”

Find more about this project here, including a podcast from members chat about the significant impact these technologies can have on the world.

Unpicking the rhythms of the Amazon rainforest

James Ball‘s PhD project is part of a bigger effort to understand the forest’s productivity and rhythms, and to predict how the whole system will respond to climate change. Find out more about his last field trip to the Amazon rainforest of French Guiana on Nature.

River flow does not recover after planting trees

River flow is reduced in areas where forests have been planted and does not recover over time. Rivers in some regions can completely disappear within a decade. Read more

Tropical forests may never fully recover from logging

Continually logging and re-growing tropical forests to supply timber is reducing the levels of vital nutrients in the soil, which may limit future forest growth and recovery. Read more

Expedition finds tallest tree in the Amazon

New research has discovered the tallest known tree in the Amazon, towering above the previous record holder at a height of 88.5 metres. This giant could store as much carbon as an entire hectare of rainforest elsewhere in the Amazon. Read more

About Us

Who we are

Human population growth and resource consumption are placing enormous pressures on natural ecosystems. We are interested in how and why the world’s forests are changing and using our research to inform conservation policy.

  • Team photo 2021 North Wales
  • Group at the Holkham beach

Laser Scanning Forest Carbon

Airborne laser scanning (ALS) and hyperspectral imaging provide a new perspective on ecological dynamics, allowing us to track both the demography of individual trees and properties of the canopy over vast areas…

Forest Biodiversity

We are interested in modelling plant distributions and patterns of species diversity…

How Forest are Responding to Global Change

Our group seeks to describe and quantify processes such as mortality, regeneration and species interactions, and how they change over time and across the landscape…

What Types of Interventions Work in Conservation?

We are investigating the social and environmental performance of a suite of interventions aimed at reversing trends in forest loss…

What we do

Video credit: Nicolas Barbier and James Ball
(Project PhenObs)

Where we are

We are a group of researchers at University of Cambridge. Being a part of the Conservation Research Institute, our offices are in David Attenborough Building at New Museum site; Being a part of Department of Plant Sciences, our wet labs are at Downing site.

Latest Publications

The rapid vegetation line shift in response to glacial dynamics and climate variability in Himalaya between 2000 and 2014

Climate change is causing glaciers to retreat across much of the Himalaya, leading to a rapid shift of the vegetation cover to higher altitudes. However, the rate of vegetation shift with respect to glacier retreat, climate change, and topographic parameters is not empirically quantified. Using remote sensing measurements, we estimate (a) the rate of glacier-ice…

Forest disturbance and growth processes are reflected in the geographic distribution of large canopy gaps across the Brazilian Amazon

Canopy gaps are openings in the forest canopy resulting from branch fall and tree mortality events. The geographical distribution of large canopy gaps may reflect underlying variation in mortality and growth processes. However, a lack of data at the appropriate scale has limited our ability to study this relationship until now. We detected canopy gaps…

Monitoring early-successional trees for tropical forest restoration using low-cost UAV-based species classification

Logged forests cover four million square kilometres of the tropics, capturing carbon more rapidly than temperate forests and harbouring rich biodiversity. Restoring these forests is essential to help avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Yet monitoring tropical forest recovery is challenging. We track the abundance of early-successional species in a forest restoration concession in…

Using deep convolutional neural networks to forecast spatial patterns of Amazonian deforestation

Tropical forests are subject to diverse deforestation pressures while their conservation is essential to achieve global climate goals. Predicting the location of deforestation is challenging due to the complexity of the natural and human systems involved but accurate and timely forecasts could enable effective planning and on-the-ground enforcement practices to curb deforestation rates. New computer…

A global evaluation of the effectiveness of voluntary REDD+ projects at reducing deforestation and degradation in the moist tropics

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) projects aim to contribute to climate change mitigation by protecting and enhancing carbon stocks in tropical forests, but there are no systematic global evaluations of their impact. Using a new data set for tropical humid forests, we used a standardised evaluation approach to quantify the performance of…

Aboveground biomass density models for NASA’s Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) lidar mission

NASA’s Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) is collecting spaceborne full waveform lidar data with a primary science goal of producing accurate estimates of forest aboveground biomass density (AGBD). This paper presents the development of the models used to create GEDI’s footprint-level (~25 m) AGBD (GEDI04_A) product, including a description of the datasets used and the procedure for final model…

Predicting leaf traits of temperate broadleaf deciduous trees from hyperspectral reflectance: can a general model be applied across a growing season?

Field spectroscopy is a powerful tool for monitoring leaf functional traits in situ, but it remains unclear whether universal statistical models can be developed to predict traits from spectral information, or whether re-calibration is necessary as conditions vary. In particular, multiple leaf traits vary simultaneously across growing seasons, and it is an open question whether…

Individual tree detection and crown segmentation based on metabolic theory from airborne laser scanning data

Laser scanning technology has enabled to study three-dimensional (3D) structures in forests. For example, airborne laser scanning (ALS) point cloud has been applied to detect individual trees and segment tree crowns. However, the accuracy of such approach remains a challenge because of the intersected crowns and complicated understories. We developed a metabolic theory-based algorithm for…

The motion of trees in the wind: a data synthesis

We have all seen trees swaying in the wind, but did you know that tree motion can teach us about ecology? Researchers have monitored tree motion for different purposes, from assessing wind damage risk to monitoring drought stress. Our new paper brings all this data together to study the differences between types of trees and test whether previous results generalize across a range of data sets.   We computed a set of descriptive features from the…