Current Members

Professor David Coomes

Head of Group

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.


Dr Yi Zhang

Lab manager

Yi provides lab management, developing analytical procedures, supervising Part II undergraduates and PhDs students, training postdoctoral RAs within Ecology laboratories. She has been involved in leaf traits analysis as part of projects to map ecosystems from airborne imagery. She has also contributed to the QGIS image analysis to allow continued data processing.


Dr Tom Swinfield

Research Associate

I work on tropical forest restoration based jointly between the University of Cambridge and the RSPB. I use a variety of remote sensing techniques from structure from motion, LiDAR and multi-temporal satellite observations to assess forest condition and how it responds to external pressures. Much of my recent work has involved developing metrics that describe 3D habitat structure from LiDAR data and testing these for a variety of taxa. I am interested in forest restoration and in developing the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and computer vision as a low-cost tool for forest quality assessments.


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Dr Toby Jackson

Research Associate

I am a postdoc in the Forest Ecology and Conservation group, based in the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and the Plant Sciences department. My work uses repeat airborne LiDAR to monitor the growth and mortality of tropical trees over time. I am particularly interested in the role of wind as a driver of tree mortality and as an inhibitor of tree growth. My current project is focused on Malaysia, French Guiana and Puerto Rico, estimating the importance of wind in the forest carbon cycle. I also work with terrestrial LiDAR data to map the detailed 3D architecture of trees and test how this shapes their response to wind loading.


Ms Laura Bentley

PhD Student

I am interested in how we adapt landscapes to our needs, and how we can make those landscapes work for us and the wider environment long-term. Increasing forest cover is widely known to affect carbon storage and biodiversity, but less known are its interactions with hydrology. The Mediterranean is facing increasing climatic uncertainty as a result of climate change and I am asking what the effects of forest regeneration will be for water security in this context, using a combination of remote sensing data and field measurements, to pick apart historic trends.


Ms Sacha Khoury

PhD Student

Sacha is interested in how climate change is affecting Mediterranean forests. She is working on determining Mediterranean forest resilience to drought from space. First, using Google Earth Engine to analyse time series of remote sensing data collected by a NASA satellite constellation. Second, linking those satellite determined resiliences to ground measurements from the Spanish national forest inventory and other datasets collected over Spain. Her work aims to determine how well we can monitor forest water use using satellite imagery in face of increasing drought severity and frequency in the Mediterranean basin. A validated remote sensing method would provide a valuable alternative to expensive, intensive ground-based measurements.


Mr Jonathan Williams

PhD Student

My research focuses on developing and encouraging the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in aiding tropical rainforest restoration. I am looking at how we can map changes and biomass at the individual tree level. This can then be used to assess site conditions and help guide managers to decide how to best apply interventions to accelerate forest restoration. The hope is this can allow reduction in cost for upscaling restoration projects, but my particular focus is on a 100,000 ha restoration programme in Sumatra.


Mr Kyaw Sein Win Tun (O’Neill)

PhD Student

Tun (O’Neill) works on (1) Myanmar’s forests’ carbon storage; (2) role of forests in the national economy and socioeconomic development through REDD+; (3) species compositional variations in the forests due to ecological factors. During his first year PhD, he investigated the ecological drivers which affect standing forest carbon stock and tree diversity variations of the five major forest types in Myanmar and whether these forests continue to exist for the future national REDD+ scheme by taking into account the response of standing forest carbon stock to environmental conditions, forest tenure, and understanding stand diversity and structure of the forests.


Mr Alex Guizar-Coutino

PhD student

I work on conservation impact evaluation, currently focusing on interventions aimed at reducing deforestation and forest degradation in the tropics.


Mr Chan Hei Yeung (Aland)

PhD Student

Aland’s research focuses on studying forest growth and succession on degraded landscapes. In particular, he hopes to identify the factors affecting the resilience of these systems against landslides and tropical cyclones. Remote sensing and field data will be gathered from Hong Kong, where forests gradually recovered from deforestation after the second world war. By comparing the collected data with topographical, meteorological, and local records of disturbances, the project will reveal how different environmental factors work together to shape the dynamics of restored tropical and subtropical forests.


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Mr James Ball

PhD Student

James is using high frequency repeat UAV lidar scanning and satellite remote sensing to better understand the phenology of tropical forests and their response to future climate change. He hopes to assess subtle seasonal changes to leaf area/density down to the level of individual trees, and thereby decipher enigmatic rainforest phenomena such as the dry season green-up of the Amazon. He also works on applying deep learning approaches to better understand and predict threats to tropical forests, supporting the work of international rainforest conservation and climate change NGO Cool Earth.


Mr Edgar Cifuentes

PhD Student

Edgar is interested the conservation of tropical forests. He aims to better understand the effects of land-use and climate change on forest ecosystems using novel approaches of remote sensing to support effective decision-making. In his first year, Edgar is developing equations for estimating biomass and carbon from lidar in different forests of the neotropics to improve the accuracy of carbon stock maps. During his PhD, he plans to explore the relationship between forests’ microclimates, structure/composition and animal distributions using Colombia as a case study. He is also interested in the use of ecoacoustics in ecology and conservation.