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Linking secondary succession of carbon stocks and biodiversity to land use history in tropical forests (PERES_ENV23CDCC)

   School of Environmental Sciences

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  Prof C Peres, Dr R Davies, Dr Catarina Jakovac, Dr M Pfeifer  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Secondary and degraded tropical forests (STFs) now cover a larger area than undisturbed old-growth forests.  The long-term conservation of both terrestrial carbon stocks and biodiversity depends on the capacity of regenerating tropical forests to retain forest biomass and plant/animal species to maintain key ecosystem functions, including carbon sequestration. We have the unique opportunity to follow patterns of forest succession in highly diverse forests of a major region of Brazilian Amazonia, which experienced small-scale forest clear-cuts of known ages generated for seismic exploration over ~40 years but otherwise no large-scale disturbance.  

This provides an ideal scenario to understand forest succession pathways and address the two outstanding questions in how STFs contribute to terrestrial carbon stocks:  

  1. Enhance estimates of how STFs contribute to carbon sequestration and biodiversity restoration under different intensities of previous land-use; and  
  2. Understand how plant and animal succession are linked under the STF restoration paradigm.  

To assess forest biomass and species composition, forest plots will be established across a chronosequence of seismic clearings and adjacent old-growth forests. To monitor seed dispersal and species interactions critical for forest succession, we will establish seed traps and survey key disperser groups. This will provide a baseline for other STF studies; investigate the successional pathways within a highly diverse undisturbed forest landscape; and unravel the mechanisms driving forest succession and identify the role that STFs play in carbon sequestration and storage.   

The project will be jointly supervised by Prof Carlos Peres, Dr Richard Davies (University East Anglia), Dr Catarina Jakovac (Federal University of Santa Catarina), and Dr Marion Pfeifer (Newcastle University) who have complementary expertise in tropical forest ecology, remote sensing, conservation biology, plant taxonomy, traditional ecological knowledge, and natural resource economics.  

The student will be based at the University of East Anglia, with extended fieldwork periods in Brazil where she/he will work in close collaboration with another student, field assistants and local botanists. The student will gain skills in forest census techniques, in-situ and remotely sensed estimation of forest biomass, plant identification and taxonomy, quantitative community ecology, multivariate modelling, advanced statistical analyses of ecological data, GIS, and remote sensing. Fieldwork experience in tropical forests and at least some language proficiency in Portuguese/Spanish would be advantageous. 

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the Critical Decade for Climate Change programme. For more information about the programme and details of how to apply, please visit 

For more information on the supervisor for this project, please visit the UEA website 

This project starts on 1st October 2023.

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the Critical Decade for Climate Change programme, which will award PhD studentship funding from the Leverhulme Trust and UEA’s Faculties of Social Sciences and Science.

Successful candidates will be awarded a PhD studentship that pays tuition fees, a stipend (£17,668 p.a. for 2022/23), and funding to support research costs. Studentship funding is only available to applicants eligible for ‘Home’ fees status, including UK nationals and most EU nationals with ‘settled’ and ‘pre-settled’ status.

Further details of the Critical Decade programme can be found at:


Chazdon, R.L., Peres, C.A. et al. 2009. The potential for species conservation in tropical secondary forests. Conservation Biology 23:1406-1417.

Peres, C.A., Emilio, T., Schietti, J., Desmoulière, S.J. and Levi, T., 2016. Dispersal limitation induces long-term biomass collapse in overhunted Amazonian forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113:892-897.

Jakovac, C.C., Peña‐Claros, M., Kuyper, T.W. and Bongers, F., 2015. Loss of secondary‐forest resilience by land‐use intensification in the Amazon. Journal of Ecology 103:67-77.

Poorter, L., Bongers, F. et al. 2016. Biomass resilience of Neotropical secondary forests. Nature 530:211-214.

Poorter, L., Craven, D., Jakovac, C.C., van der Sande, M., et al. 2021. Multidimensional tropical forest recovery. Science 374:1370-1376.
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