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School of Geography

Tim Baker Dr Tim Baker

Contact details

Room 10.29 Garstang
School of Geography
University of Leeds
University Road
Leeds LS2 9JT   UK


+44 (0) 113 34 38352

Student hours:
Please email to arrange an appointment

Research overview

My research aims to understand the processes that determine patterns of carbon cycling and biodiversity in tropical forests to inform efforts to manage these ecosystems in the face of global environmental change. My work involves wide-ranging collaborations across evolutionary biology, palaeoecology, ecology, ecosystem science, vegetation modelling and remote sensing, and focuses on three broad questions:

1. How resilient are intact tropical forests to environmental change?

A key part of my work focuses on understanding the processes that control variation in the carbon stocks, diversity and composition of intact tropical forests. Currently, I lead the project 'Monitoring protected areas in Peru to increase forest resilience to climate change' which is quantifying how forests in the Peruvian Andes Amazon region are responding to climate change and will integrate this information within the management strategies of the Peruvian Protected Area authority ($1.5 million; Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation).

More broadly, my research has described large-scale patterns in the carbon stocks of Amazonian forests and been used to guide the development of vegetation models and calibrate and validate remote sensing products. For example, as part of the EU funded AMAZALERT consortium, Michelle Johnson and I led the intercomparison of observational data from the RAINFOR and ForestPlots initiatives with DGVM predictions of aboveground biomass and woody productivity across Amazonia.  

My research also explores how the structure and composition of intact tropical forests is changing: I am particularly interested in the role that biodiversity plays in enhancing the resilience of tropical forests to environmental change. In Ghana, we have shown how forest composition has altered in recent decades to favour more drought tolerant species in response to a marked reduction in rainfall. Surprisingly, this change is associated with an increase in forest biomass: the changes in biodiversity have increased the resilience of forest carbon stocks to long-term drought.

2. How did the diversity of tropical forests arise and what are implications of evolutionary history for ecosystem function and conservation today?

Understanding the mechanisms that have led to the high diversity of tropical forests has inspired ecologists for centuries. I am particularly interested in the role that ecological processes have played in the evolution of tropical plants: how adaptations to different environmental conditions and constraints imposed by different life history strategies have shaped the diversification of tropical trees. For example, my work has shown how species-rich groups of Amazonian trees share the key trait of short generation times which has promoted their diversification over geological time.

My work also explores the legacy of evolutionary history for current patterns of ecosystem function in tropical forests and the losses of evolutionary diversity that may occur as a result of land-use and climate change.

3. How can we conserve tropical peatland landscapes?

Tropical peatlands are hotspots of carbon storage but highly sensitive to disturbance and changing climate. My work focuses on Amazonian peatlands where we have mapped the distribution of these carbon-dense ecosystems for the first time. This work has supported a $6 million investment in conservation in this region by the UN-backed Green Climate Fund, and I actively work with regional and national government organisations to promote sustainable management of these ecosystems by linking their role in carbon storage with the implementation of sustainable ‘bio-businesses’ led by local communities.

PhD Supervision

I would be interested in supervising PhDs on topics such as:

  • The processes underlying the diversification of the flora of tropical forests.
  • Understanding spatial and temporal patterns of tropical forest structure, function and composition
  • The design and effectiveness of initiatives that aim to receive payments for carbon in the tropics


No information at present.