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

Latest News

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.

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 2007 in Norfolk coast
  • Team photo 2021 North Wales

What we do

Video credit: James Ball

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…

Find out more about our research …

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

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…

The impact of logging on vertical canopy structure across a gradient of tropical forest degradation intensity in Borneo

Forest degradation through logging is pervasive throughout the world’s tropical forests, leading to changes in the three-dimensional canopy structure that have profound consequences for wildlife, microclimate and ecosystem functioning. Quantifying these structural changes is fundamental to understanding the impact of degradation, but is challenging in dense, structurally complex forest canopies. We exploited discrete-return airborne LiDAR…

Monitoring ash dieback in British forests using hyperspectral remote sensing

Fungal ash dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) is posing an imminent threat to forest health in Europe. Using airborne hyperspectral imagery trained against 422 tree crowns of known species and ash dieback severity, we built PLS-DA and RF models that classified individual tree crowns (ITCs) into five species (>90% OA) and ash crowns into three disease severity…

Riparian buffers act as microclimatic refugia in oil palm landscapes

There is growing interest in the ecological value of set‐aside habitats around rivers in tropical agriculture. These riparian buffers typically comprise forest or other non‐production habitat, and are established to maintain water quality and hydrological processes, while also supporting biodiversity, ecosystem function and landscape connectivity. We investigated the capacity for riparian buffers to act as…