Dr. Lydia Cole Post Doctoral Research Fellow
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. Prior to her DPhil in 2008, she completed a MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management at the School of Geography and the Environment. As part of her Masters’ research project, she investigated human-wildlife conflict around Kaziranga National Park in Assam, northeast India, assisted by a grant from the Tropical Agriculture Award Fund (TAAF). 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.
Since leaving Oxford, Lydia spent four and a half years with Rezatec working as their in-house ecologist, and responsible for field data collection exercises. She worked on projects ranging from developing a web-based geospatial tool for monitoring the integrity of peatlands in the UK, Malaysia and Indonesia, to characterising England’s agricultural landscape. Subsequent to this, she spent 10 months as a Knowledge Exchange Assistant and Landscape Analyst at the University of Liverpool, developing Condatis and trialing it in a tropical landscape setting. She is now at the University of St Andrews, working as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Ecology on a Leverhulme Trust funded project: “Valuing intact tropical peatlands – an interdisciplinary perspective“, with members of the Tropical Wetlands Consortium.
Lydia’s mother tongue is English; she can also converse in Swahili and Spanish, and understand the odd word of Malay!
Long-term ecology, recovery dynamics and resilience of tropical forests, with a focus on tropical peat swamp forests
Tropical peat swamp 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 peat swamp forests have experienced in the past and how much they can tolerate before ecosystem function is permanently degraded 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 peat swamp 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 peat swamp 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. (See Cole et al., 2015, for the results of this palaeoecological study.)
- 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; peatland ecology; tropical agriculture; 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).
- Wijedasa, L. S. , Jauhiainen, J. , Könönen, M. , Lampela, M. , Vasander, H. , Leblanc, M. C. , Evers, S. , Smith, T. E. L. , Yule, C. M. , Varkkey, H. , Lupascu, M. , Parish, F. , Singleton, I. , Clements, G. R. , Aziz, S. A. , Harrison, M. E. , Cheyne, S. , Anshari, G. Z. , Meijaard, E. , Goldstein, J. E., Cole, L. E. S., & 117 others (2017) Denial of long-term issues with agriculture on tropical peatlands will have devastating consequences. Global Change Biology, 23(3): 977-982.
- Kelly, T. J., Lawson, I. T. & Cole, L. E. S. (2018) Peat. Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series. Springer, p. 1197-1200 4 p. (Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series)
- 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.
- Cole, L.E.S., Alfthan, B., Bhagwat, S. and Barua, M. (in prep, 2019) 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.
- Presentations since 2014 have included various at International Peatland Society events, ATBC 2018, and others.
- 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.