Oxford Long-Term Ecology Lab

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

Academic profile

Jessica’s research interests lie in the fields of agro-bioversity conservation, ecosystem services and function, human livelihoods and climate adaptation in rural and periurban settings. She is supervised by Prof. Kathy Willis (Kew), Dr. Thomas Thornton (Environmental Change Institute, Oxford) and Dr. Ariella Helfgott (Wageningen). Her current research for the CGIAR Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security programme since 2012 involves conducting farmer exchanges in the Farms of the Future Programme (Nepal, 2012), training agricultural extension workers and farmers in Northern Ghana (2013/4) and facilitating scenario planning in South Asia (Nepal, 2013). She is also a lead reviewer for a systematic map  for the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Before commencing her doctoral training, she conducted research for the UN International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, worked as a research assistant for the London School of Economics, Brown University, the University of Cape Town, and the International Labour Research and Information Group and consulted to the South African Department of Social Development. Between 2009-10 she was employed as project officer for an alliance of conservation organisations, including Conservation International and WWF, called the Climate Action Partnership. Jessica has taught undergraduate courses in Field Ecology (Department of Plant Sciences, Oxford), Global Challenges for the 21st Century (International Alliance of Research Universities, Oxford), and Cities of the South (Dept Environmental and Geographical Science, UCT) .

Her background is in Environmental Change and Management (MSc, School of Geography and Environment, Oxford, 2010-2011), Human Geography (Hons, UCT, 2007- 2008) and Environmental and Geographical Science and Psychology (BSocSci, UCT, 2004-2007) – made possible through the support of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (DfID) and the National Research Foundation South Africa. Jessica is fluent in English, speaks Afrikaans and basic Nepali and Spanish.

Climate change adaptation, ecosystem service and function and human well-being: Small-holder farming systems in South Asia and West Africa

Small-holder farmers play an influential role in prevailing environmental conditions across the globe. They maintain ecosystem functioning, through a configured matrix of crops housing a variety of pests and pollinators, and are concurrently major drivers of change through land clearance, river and ground water extraction, fertilizer inputs, and pesticide application. Two billion people depend on small-holdings for livelihoods, constituting 80% of people living in sub-Saharan Africa alone. However, we have a limited understanding of how management practices impact ecosystem processes, goods and services such as nutrient cycling and decomposition, pollination services, pest and disease regulation or water regulation and supply. This is in part due to the lack of empirical data at the field level, and robust methods for assessing a range of services and their interactions.  Projected climate change impacts, together with population growth and changing consumption patterns, pose a serious threat to food production and livelihood security. Solutions for sustainable intensification with few farming inputs are needed to promote the resilience of small-holders, and should be informed by robust analysis of empirical evidence of impacts now and in the future.

Against this background, Jessica’s study aimed to address the following : (1) Develop and trial an indicator-based field methodology to assess ecosystem processes, goods and services, and self-assessed human well-being in agricultural landscapes, entitled the Rapid Ecosystem Service Assessment Technique (RESAT); (2) Conduct a systematic map of the effectiveness of on-farm conservation land management strategies for preserving ecosystem services in developing countries; (3) Assess shifts in  pest and disease regulation, pollination and decomposition along a climatic latitudinal gradient,  in terms of functional trait diversity, abundance and productivity; (4) Quantitatively model the inter-linkages between ecosystem processes, goods and services and human well-being for resilient planning and decision-making; and (5) Recommend alternative land-management practices for small-holder famers in response to current and future climate change.

Methods used included space-for-time substitution, a multidisciplinary suite of methods for field assessment, taxonomic identification and multivariate modelling. Systems of study are the Terai Plains of Nepal (rice) and Northern Ghana (vegetables).

Research projects

Rapid Ecosystem Service Assessment Technique (RESAT) : An indicator methodology  for assessing ecosystem processes and function, goods and services, and human well-being in agricultural landscapes Collaborators: Carla Romeu-Dalmau, Ariella Helfgott and Kathy Willis

Potential impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem function in small-holder agro-ecosystems in Northern Ghana Collaborators: Darren Mann, Jake Snaddon and Kathy Willis

How effective are on-farm conservation land management strategies for preserving ecosystem services in developing countries? A systematic map protocol Collaborators:  Rachel Friedman, Samson Foli, Jake Snaddon, Kasper Kok, Anthony Waldron, Wen Zhou, Shonil Bhagwat, Kathy Willis and Gillian Petrokofsky

Systemic Framework for Integrated Adaptation Planning (SIA) Collaborators: Ariella Helfgott, Chase Sova, Abrar Chaudhury and Meghan Bailey

Selected Publications

Thorn, J., Snaddon, J., Kok, K., Waldron, A., Zhou, W., Bhagwat, S., Willis, K., and Petrokofsky, G. (2015). “How effective are on-farm conservation land management strategies for preserving ecosystem services in developing countries? A systematic map protocol.” Journal of Environmental Evidence. 4(11):1-12.

Thorn, J., Thornton, T. F., and Helfgott, A. (2015) “Autonomous adaptation to global environmental change in peri-urban settlements: Evidence of a growing culture of innovation and revitalisation in Mathare Valley Slums, Nairobi”. Global Environmental Change, 31 (March): 121-131.

Thorn, J. and Oldfield. S. (2012) “A politics of land occupation:  a perspective on state practice and everyday mobilization in Zille Raine Heights, Cape Town”. Journal of African Studies, 46(5): 518-530.

Bourke, L., Butcher, S., Chisonga, N., Clarke, J., Davies, F, and Thorn. J. (2009) “Fieldwork stories: negotiating positionality, power and purpose”. Feminist Africa, 13 : 95-105.

Policy reports

Thorn, J. (2013) “Impact Evaluation for Farms of the Future , Nepal and SIA.”  CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) – Theme 1 Adaptation to Long-term Climate Change. Copenhagen, Denmark. October.

Reid, H., Alam, M., Ayoola, E., Borchard, C., Bossi, R., Carlile, L., Christensen, K., Dodman, D., Fisher, S., Friend, R., Harvey, B., Thi Mai Hoa, D., Huq, S., James, R., Kaur, N., Koelle, B., Witman Lunduka, R., Maharjan, S., Quang Minh, D., Mitchell, P., Nyandiga, C., Orchard, S., Otzelberger, A., Phadtare, M., Plush, T., Prabhakar, S., Ramasamy, S., Roberts, E., Sapul, A., Sara, J., Schoch, C., Shanahan, M., Singh, H., Suarez, P., Thorn, J., Tiedemann, M., Wright, H., and Zanev, C. (2012) Community Based Adaptation, 6th International Conference Proceedings. Hanoi, Vietnam. 18 – 24 April 2012. Report.

Thorn, J. (2011) “An energy resource assessment of non-grid electrification to deliver Information and Communication Technology to rural schools: The case of Zabasa Secondary School in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.” Report. Household Energy Network.

Thorn, J. and Marais, S. (2010) “Lessons learnt from ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation and mitigation in South Africa.” Conservation International South Africa. April.

Thorn, J. (2009) “State of substance abuse service delivery in the Western Cape. Prepared for the Provincial Government Department of Social Development, Sub-directorate of Substance Abuse. Cape Town.” June.

Thorn, J. (2008) “Urban Transformation and racial integration in Post-Apartheid South Africa – the case of Sybrand Park and Eastridge suburbs in Cape Town.”  Department of Sociology of Brown University. November.

Conference presentations

Thorn, J. and Slater, A. (2014) “Water’s future age: Collective transitions for farms, fuel and livelihoods”. Arts, Science and the Thirsty World Interdisciplinary graduate conference. University of Oxford, UK. June; Cornell University, Ithaca, USA. November. [Video presentation][Blog].

Thorn, J. (2014) “Potential impacts of climate change on ecosystem function and biodiversity in Northern Ghana”. Invited to present on panel on post-conversion conservation facilitated by Prof. William Foster. Association of Tropical Biology Conservation 51st Meeting. Cairns, Australia. July.

Thorn, J. (2014). “Land use change in Northern Ghana”. Multi-level Integrated Adaptation Governance Workshop. Accra, Ghana.   [Photo blog ] [ Video interviews of participants.]

Thorn, J. (2013).”An indicator-based field methodology to assess ecosystem processes, goods and services, and self-assessed human well-being at the landscape level.” Biodiversity Resilience Symposium. University of Oxford, UK. September.

Thorn, J. (2012) “Assessing the impact of climate adaptation strategies of small-holders on ecosystem processes, goods and services and human well-being.” British Ecological Society Annual meeting. Poster. University of Birmingham, UK. December.

Thorn, J. (2012) “Adapting to rising waters: A participatory investigation into community innovation in relation to urban flooding in Mathare Valley Slums, Kenya.” Invited to sit on panel on Urban Adaptation facilitated by David Dodman. Sixth International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation. Hanoi, Vietnam. April.

Thorn, J. and Oldfield, S. (2012) “A politics of land occupation: State practice and everyday mobilization in Zille Raine Heights informal settlement, South Africa.” Intersections of Rights and Laws: Environment, Livelihood and Self – Determination. SOAS University of London. London, UK. January.

Thorn, J. (2012) “Autonomous adaptation to urban flooding in Mathare Valley Slums: Preliminary findings.” Inter-ministerial workshop on Community-Based Flood Risk Management and Disaster Risk Reduction.  Represented UN International Strategy on Disaster Reduction Africa. Nairobi, Kenya. June.

Thorn, J. (2009) “The policy project, research interface and road to adaptation.” Climate Action Partnership climate change knowledge exchange. South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). Cape Town, South Africa. October.

Thorn, J. (2009). “Challenging Evictions: Negotiating Lived Experiences in Zille Raine Heights.” Gender Justice and Body Politics International Conference. University of Cape Town in partnership with Brown University. Cape Town, South Africa. February.


Thorn, J. (2013). “Rice, Rain and Harvests: How vision and collaboration can put climate adaptation into action.”  EcoAgriculture Partners – Landscapes for People Food and Nature.  25 November. Blog.

Ademiluyi, A. and Thorn, J.  (2013) “Blind vegetable farming: One calabash at a time.”  Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security. 13 March. Blog.

Sova, C. and Thorn, J. (2012) “Believable climate futures explored by Nepalese Farmers”. Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security. 11 December. Blog.

Thorn, J. (2010) Working together for a secure future of South Africa’s water resources. Environment Magazine. Pg 78-79. August. Article.

Thorn, J. (2010) Water security and climate change. Veld and Flora Magazine, Botanical Society of South Africa. June.  Article.

Thorn, J. and Benson, K. (2009) “Lessons to be learnt from Zille Raine Heights informal settlement for housing activists in South Africa”. International Labour Research and Information Group, Cape Town. Training Handbook.