Dr. Lydia Cole Post Doctoral Researcher
Having completed her DPhil thesis in Spring 2013, Lydia worked for a year as a post doctoral researcher, continuing her work in the Department of Zoology, and doing projects with members of the University of Oxford’s School of Geography and Plant Sciences Department. She also taught undergraduate Biological Sciences in her role as Stipendiary Lecturer at St Hugh’s College, from October 2012 to 2013. In 2008, she completed an MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management at the School of Geography and the Environment. To support the Masters’ research project, which investigated human-wildlife conflict around Kaziranga National Park in Assam, northeast India, she was awarded a grant by the Tropical Agriculture Award Fund (TAAF), administered by the Tropical Agriculture Association. Prior to this she obtained a BA in Natural Sciences, graduating from the Plant Sciences Department at the University of Cambridge in 2006, where she received a Senior Scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge.
Lydia is fluent in English and also speaks Spanish and Swahili, and is a “Beginner” in Malay.
Long-term ecology, recovery dynamics and resilience of tropical forests, with a focus on tropical peat swamp forests
Tropical peatswamp forests are rich in biodiversity, as well as an important store of carbon and source of ecosystem services for stakeholders, both locally and globally. Yet they are being logged and converted at rapid rates as plantation agriculture, predominantly oil palm, settlements and infrastructural developments expand to meet the requirements of the growing human population. How much disturbance these peatswamp forests have experienced in the past and how much they can tolerate before ecosystem function is permanently destroyed are important questions that need to be addressed if these habitats are to be managed for sustainable resource provision. In order to provide answers, a palaeoecological investigation of the coastal peatswamp forests of northern Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, was carried out. Core samples from three peatland locations were analysed for their fossil pollen and charcoal content, in order to reconstruct the past vegetation and fire disturbance history of these areas. In addition, key informant interviews were performed to gather information on past and contemporary peatland use and attitudes towards its conservation. Overall, this research aimed to assess the past vegetation dynamics and past and present human use of these peatlands, in order to provide guidance on how this ecosystem should be managed into the future, with the long-term provision of ecosystem services and biodiversity at the core.
Specific research objectives were as follows:
- To investigate the impact of past disturbances on forest communities across the different tropical zones of the world, using published palaeoecological records. (See Cole et al., 2014, for results of this meta-analysis.)
- To determine the disturbance history (i.e. fire, climatic change and human impacts) of tropical coastal peatswamp forests in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, and the response of the vegetation to such events, with a focus on the resilience of the ecosystem, using fossil pollen and charcoal data.
- To investigate the patterns of vegetation response to different disturbances and ecosystem dynamics in the past, providing information on the long-term ecology of this ecosystem, useful for restoration efforts.
- To document past and current human use patterns in these coastal peatswamp forests, and knowledge of and attitudes towards their conservation, in order to develop more appropriate management strategies to enable the different stakeholders to use this ecosystem in a sustainable way.
Lydia’s research interests include: biodiversity conservation; tropical ecology; palaeoecology; reconciliation ecology; tropical agriculture; paludiculture; sustainable livelihoods and integrated landscape management; payments for ecosystem services; and human-wildlife conflict.
Funding for this Doctoral research came from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
Sustainable peatland management
Currently, Lydia is also working with Rezatec Ltd. on the development of a landscape intelligence tool, focusing on mapping, measuring and monitoring peatland extent and carbon content, with funding from the European Space Agency. More information on this project can be found here.
For up-to-date information on Lydia’s projects, presentations and interests, please refer to her personal website.
- Cole, L.E.S., S.A. Bhagwat. and K.J. Willis. (2015) Long-term disturbance dynamics and resilience of tropical peat swamp forests. Journal of Ecology – Special Feature on Forest Resilience. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.12329.
- Cole, L.E.S., S.A. Bhagwat and K.J. Willis. (2014) Recovery and resilience of tropical forests after disturbance. Nature Communications, 5: 3906. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4906.
- Bhagwat, S.A., Cole, L.E.S. & Willis, K.J. (2012) Biodiversity in Oil Palm Plantations. In Simonetti, J.A., Grez, A.A., Estades, C.F. & Pérez, J. (eds)Biodiversity Conservation in Agroforestry Landscapes: Challenges and Opportunities, Universidad de Chile Press, Chile.
- Alfthan, B., Bhagwat, S., Cole, L.E.S. and Barua, M. (forthcoming) Spatial Patterns of Crop Depredation around Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India.
- Cole, L.E.S., Alfthan, B., Bhagwat, S. and Barua, M. (forthcoming, 2014) Kaziranga and Corridors; for Rhinos or for People?
- Coomes, D.A., Jenkins, K.L. and Cole, L.E.S. (2007) Scaling of tree vascular systems along gradients of nutrient supply and altitude. Biology Letters, 3(1): 86-89.
- Presenting a poster, Peat Spotter: Mapping, Measuring and Monitoring Peatland Assets, at the IUCN UK Peatland Programme Conference, Inverness, UK, October 2014.
- Presenting a poster, Long-term disturbance dynamics and resilience of tropical peat swamp forests, at the South East Asia Rainforest Research Programme (SEARRP) Meeting, London, UK, October 2014.
- Presentation, Measuring recovery rates and resilience in tropical forests with fossil pollen, at the Biodiversity Institute Symposium, University of Oxford, UK, October 2013.
- Presented a poster, An investigation into the resilience of tropical peat swamp forests in the face of agricultural expansion, at the IUCN UK Peatland Programme Conference, York University, UK, September 2013.
- Presentation, Flaming peat: synergistic effects of fire, climatic drying and forest clearance on tropical peat swamp forests, at INTECOL, London, UK, August 2013.
- Presented a poster, An investigation into the resilience of tropical peat swamp forests in the face of agricultural expansion, at INTECOL, London, UK, August 2013.
- Presentation, Muddy waters: An investigation into the resilience of tropical peat swamp forests in the face of agricultural expansion,
at the Southeast Asian Gateway Evolution Meeting (SAGE 2013), Berlin, Germany, March 2013.
- Presentation, An investigation into the resilience and sustainable management of tropical peat swamp forests, at the Project Southeast Asia – Southeast Asian Studies Symposium, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK, March 2013.
- Presentation, An investigation into the resilience of tropical peat swamp forests, at the Joint BES and IUCN UK Peatland Programme Symposium 2012, Bangor University, Wales, June 2012.
- Presentation, An investigation into the resilience of tropical peat swamp forests, at the Student Conference on Conservation Science, Cambridge University, March 2012.
- Presented a poster, Probing the Peat; an investigation into the resilience of tropical peat swamp forests in the face of agricultural expansion, at the International Society of Tropical Foresters Yale Student Chapter Annual Conference at Yale University, entitled Communities, Commodities and Carbon: Innovations in Tropical Forest Management, in January 2011.
- Presentation, Permeating the Peat: an investigation into the resilience of tropical peat-swamp forests, at the European Association for South East Asian Studies Conference, Gothenburg, Sweden, August 2010.
- Presented a poster of preliminary DPhil results at the Joint Meeting on the “Impacts of Global Change on Tropical Ecosystems”, of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation and the Society for Tropical Ecology, in Marburg, Germany, July 2009.
- Presented MSc dissertation, Kaziranga and Corridors; for Rhinos or for People?, at the British Ecological Society’s Tropical Ecology Group Early Career Researcher Meeting, in Manchester, March 2009.