Oxford Long-Term Ecology Lab

Long-Term Ecology, Biodiversity Conservation, and Environmental Stewardship Technologies

Academic Profile

Elinor gained her D.Phil. from the School of Geography and Environment, Oxford University in 2010. Her thesis examined the drivers of vegetation change at the present-day grassland-savanna ecotone in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa. This involved the use of a variety of palaeoecological techniques (pollen, charcoal, stable isotope and phytolith analysis) on three sedimentary sequences spanning the Holocene (last 10,000 years). The main focus of this work was climate-fire-vegetation dynamics in the summer rainfall region of South Africa, temporal (Holocene) and spatial (altitudinal) changes in C3– and C4-dominated grass ecosystems, and ecological thresholds and resilience within savannas and grasslands. This work was funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, and supervised by Dr Lindsey Gillson and Prof. Kathy Willis. Elinor also holds an MSc in Forestry and Land Use from Oxford University, and an MA in Plant Sciences from Cambridge University. Previous work has investigated: the role of soil seed banks and seed dispersers in the restoration of fragmented forest; the role of sun flecks in the forest understory; and regeneration of native forest under pine plantations. Elinor has worked in tropical rainforest ecology in Costa Rica, restoration ecology in Madagascar, and run environmental expeditions to Nicaragua.

Elinor is currently co-supervising one D.Phil. student, Carolina Tovar. Elinor has tutored geography undergraduates from three Oxford Colleges, and was a College Lectureship in Geography at Christ Church College from 2009-2011. Elinor has taught on the Biodiversity, Conservation and Management MSc in the School of Geography and the Environment, and demonstrated in practical classes for the BA Biology course, Oxford University.  She also taught on the Edexcel BTEC Advanced Diploma in Tropical Habitat Conservation, and acted as an internal verifier for this course.

Previous post doctoral work
Elinor was involved with a post doctoral programmes in the Long-term Ecology Laboratory investigating changes in  ultra-violet radiation (UV-B) radiation through time. An understanding of past variations in incoming UV-B is one of the great unknowns of climate science. This project has developed a new proxy for measuring UV-B in sediment sequences, enabling questions relating to the role of UV-B in speciation and extinction events to be addressed.

Elinor has also worked on a NERC-ESPA funded project, investigatingthe spread and impact of invasive species through time. Historical records provide a baseline and invasion trajectory for Lantana camara across different continents, enabling comparisons of its establishment in different environments. The impacts of this species on ecosystem function, ecosystem services and biodiversity were assed, and new management scenarios proposed incorporating findings on livelihoods and poverty alleviation.

Other positions
Elinor previously worked as the research technician for the Oxford Long-term Ecology Laboratory. Responsibilities included training members of the group and summer students in lab. protocols, over seeing the smooth running of the lab. and acting as health and safety officer for the group.

Current Interests

Elinor’s research interests include the ecology of tropical forests, the role of fire in shaping landscapes, changes in C3 and C4 vegetation through time, and the role of thresholds and resilience in vegetation dynamics. She currently works at the Millennium Seed Bank, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Selected Publications

    • Tovar, C., Breman, E., Brncic, T., Harris, D.J., Bailey, R. & Willis, K.J. (2014). Influence of 1100 years of burning on the central African rainforest. Ecography: DOI: 10.1111/ecog.00697. Abstract
    • Seddon, A.W.R., et. al. (2014) Looking forward through the past. Identification of 50 priority questions in palaeoecology. Journal of Ecology 102(1): 256-267. Paper.
    • Burrough, S. and Breman, E. (2013) Reply to Cordova et al.’s comment on ‘Can phytoliths provide an insight into past vegetation of the Middle Kalahari palaeolakes during the late Quaternary’: A case of misinterpretation. Journal of Arid Environments Abstract.
    • Breman, E., Gillson, L. and Willis, K. (2012). How fire and climate shaped grass-dominated vegetation and forest mosaics in northern South Africa during past millennia. The Holocene 22 (12) 1427-1439. Abstract
    • Trevitt, C., Breman, E. and Stocks, C. (2012) Assessment and learning: Is it time to rethink student activities and academic roles? Revista de Investigación Educativa 30(2): 253-269. Paper.
    • Bhagwat, S. A., Breman, E., Thekaekara, T., Thornton, T. F. And Willis, K. J. (2012) A Battle Lost? Report on Two Centuries of Invasion and Management of Lantana camara L. in Australia, India and South Africa. PlosOne 7(3): e32407. Paper.
    • Burrough, S., Breman, E. and Dodds, C. (2012). An insight into past vegetation of the Middle Kalahari Palaeolakes through the application of phytolith analysis. Journal of Arid Environments 82: 156-164. Abstract.
    • Willis, K.J., Feurdean, A., Birks, H.J.B., Breman, E., Broekman, R. Grytnes, J.A., New, M., Singarayer, J.S. and Rozema, J. (2012). Quantification of UV-B flux through time using UV-B absorbing compounds contained in fossil Pinus spp. sporopollenin. New Phytologist 192: 553-560. Paper.
    • Telfer, M.W., Thomas, Z.A. and Breman, E. (2012). Sand ramps in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, South Africa: Evidence of periglacial aeolian activity during the last glacia. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 313-314: 59-69. Abstract.

Conference papers

  • Breman, E; Gillson, L. and Willis, K. (2011) How fire and climate shaped grass-dominated vegetation and forest mosaics in northern South Africa during past millennia. 37th annual conference of the South African Association of Botanists (SAAB), South Africa. (Presented by L. Gillson)
  • Breman, E; Gillson, L. and Willis, K. (2011) Long-term ecology of a RAMSAR wetland, South Africa: A 10,500 year palaeoecological record of vegetation dynamics. 5th International Biogeography Society conference, Crete.
  • Willis, K. J. A. Feurdean; H. J. B. Birks; A. E. Bjune; E. Breman; R. Broekman; J-A. Grytnes; M. New; J. S. Singarayer; and J. Rozema(2011) Development of a method to quantify UV-B flux during the Quaternary using UV-B absorbing compounds contained in fossil Pinusspp. sporopollenin. INQUA, Bern, Switzerland.
  • Breman, E.; Gillson, L. and Willis, K. (2010) How fire and climate shaped grass-dominated vegetation in South Africa in past millennia. Symposium paper for Palaeoenvironmental changes since the Last Glacial Maximum: patterns, timing and dynamics throughout the Southern Hemisphere. VI Southern Connection congress, Bariloche, Argentina.
  • Breman, E. and Gillson, L. (2007) Long-term vegetation dynamics at the grassland-savanna ecotone, South Africa. 5th Kruger National Park Science Networking Meeting, South Africa.
  • Breman, E.; Gillson, L. and Willis, K. (2006) Long-term vegetation dynamics at the grassland-savanna ecotone, South Africa. 36th Annual Conference of the Ecological Society of Germany, Switzerland and Austria (GfÖ), Germany.
  • Gillson, L., Ekblom, A., Duffin, K. and Breman, E. (2006) Kruger Environments Project Using palaeoecology to explore long-term ecosystem dynamics. 4th Kruger National Park Science Networking Meeting 13-17 March, Skukuza, South Africa.
  • Gillson, L., Ekblom, A., Duffin, K.., Virah-Swarmy, M. and Breman, E. Ecological change and environmental management in Southern Africa (2005) African Environment Programme Seminar, School of Geogrpahy and the Environment, Oxford Univeristy