Dr Malcolm Penn

Dr Malcom Penn
  • GIS Manager
  • Science Facilities department
  • Imaging and Analysis Centre
Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road


Employment history

1998 - 2008    GIS Facility Leader /Specialist, Botany Department. The

                        Natural History Museum

2000 - 2002    Scientific leader of Las Cuevas Research Centre

1995 - 1998    Senior Scientific Officer in GIS, the Natural History Museum

1992 - 1995    Principal Research Fellow in GIS, The Natural History Museum

1991 - 1992    GIS Analyst, Ernst Young Accountants

Field work

Significant south american and south east asian field experience. 

This includes field work in Belize, Guatamala, Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Panama, Thailand and Honduras.

Specific examples include;

  • Victoria Peak Belize, first botanical collections visit 2004.
  • Guatemala, May 97 (4 weeks).
  • Argentina, June 1996 (5 weeks).
  • Russia, Nov 2001 (2 weeks).
  • Joint services Upper Raspaculo Expedition member 1993 (4 weeks).
  • New Millennium Belize expedition member 2000 (4 weeks).
  • Doi-Inthanon, QSBG Chiang mai, Thailand 2005, 2007.


Lead GIS spatial and interdisciplinary research;train/install GIS software;maintain all GIS software (includes updates of software);act as technical contact to Eduserve, and main support contact to ESRI UK;provide high-level GIS and image processing support, provide spatial data; support GIS spatial software for individuals and groups of scientists and non scientists; world data resources (rasters and polygon/lines);develop web-based GIS; support unix hardware;continue scientific grant success;peer reviewed papers.



Presently the GIS Facility leader at the Natural History Museum and heads a spatial research group at the NHM. In recent years he has been running the GIS component of four Darwin funded grants, one EEC funded grant, and has been recently successful in jointly obtaining NERC grant funding, as well as numerous other smaller research grants. He successfully led the Las Cuevas Research Station (Scientific Leader). He has developed strong academic links with many researchers both nationally and internationally. He has successfully trained and supervised all levels of student. He has led projects and field work through-out Central/South America and South East Asia, and has gained substantial tropical geographical experience as a result.


An established academic researcher who has expertise in the fields of Geographical Information Systems (GIS), modeling, remote sensing, systematics, micro-variation of soils and plants in tropical environments, vegetation classifications, GIS ecological monitoring/conservation, modeling flora and Fauna distributions, biodiversity monitoring and geostatistics     

Selection of projects involving my work

"Spatial analysis of forest composition, productivity and micro-environmental variation in Belize"


A major investigation into the spatial relationships of edaphic factors which control/influence the diversity of tropical tree species. It focuses on spatiality of important soil chemical constituents by using a nested sampling technique to model data interactions to assess their influence on tropical tree species presence, absence, abundance and address important research questions, including how can we assess/model at a micro-scale the temporal nature of specific soils to acting as carbon-sinks.

"Using Geostatistical techniques to model plant distributions"


To effectively model species distributions using local rather than global statistics to produce a discreet and more valid method of assessing plant frequencies within the tropics. Geostatistical methods including Ordinary kriging and co-kriging are being modified so as to be appropriate for use on field collected count data

"Remote Sensing and spatial studies in Belizean Tropical Forests"


This novel and pioneering project links botanical specimens and biodiversity by combining new satellite based vegetation mapping techniques with traditional plot-based collections. The project uses a multi-scale approach, and scaling-up techniques to inter-relate satellite data with botanical plot techniques to improve the accuracy of mapping/assessment of vegetation/species assemblages using satellite imagery.

"Taxonomic Capacity Building in Support of Biodiversity Conservation in Thailand"


To provide the first national depository /identification and GIS facility for insects, a prerequisite for generating the biological information needed for effective GIS biodiversity conservation in Thailand. UK expertise is being used to establish a focus to help build and maintain the human resources, systems and infrastructure needed to obtain, collate and curate the biological specimens that are the basis for taxonomic knowledge. Field work is centred on Doi Inthanon National Park (DINP) and Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden (QSBG).

"Xate Palms in Belize"


GIS research involvement focuses on modelling the Xate resource survey data to assess whether there is an association to specific vegetation classes. It tests whether we can predict occurrence and abundance of Xaté palms within different vegetation classes (uses tailor-made GIS modelling techniques).

"Developing integrated assessments of biodiversity in secondary forests in Belize"


To determine the biodiversity value of secondary forest tracts within and surrounding three protected areas that are regenerating from past natural and anthropogenic impacts. Creating databases of habitats, plant and animal species within the three protected areas by collation of existing data and additional data collection. GIS Mapping of habitat types, species and land use, enabling forest regeneration in naturally regenerated forests (e.g. post-hurricane) to be compared with that from anthropogenic land use. Using this information to measure biodiversity and attempt to identify indicator species that could be used to demonstrate conservation status

"Baseline tools for management in PN La Amistad (Costa Rica/Panama)"


Provide basic biological data and mapping resources necessary to underpin and develop a conservation plan for the sustainable management Parque Nacional La Amistad. To do so in accordance with an existing agreed strategy whereby the mapping and stratified inventory of keystone species will provide the resources to develop a binational management plan.

"Capacity building for biodiversity studies of freshwater insects in Argentina"


To use our expertise in the collection, identification, monitoring
and curation of freshwater insects to build infrastructure and capacity at the Puerto Blest Biological Field Station in the Nahuel Huapi National Park (NHNP), To compile an inventory of freshwater insects and a GIS-based vegetation map in the NHNP providing information on the biodiversity and biogeography of pristine freshwater ecosystems in the region and a baseline against which damaged and polluted systems can be measured. To establish models of Best Practice in the development of insect reference collections, taxonomic data-basing, digital images, GIS and website construction.

"Dinosaur/plant interactions: testing co-evolutionary patterns over geological timescales"


To enable co-evolutionary plant and dinosaur extinctions to be modelled and mapped using GIS. We are testing the hypothesis that diffuse co-evolutionary interactions occurred between herbivorous dinosaurs and plants during the Cretaceous Period and that these interactions promoted the ecological and evolutionary radiations of these groups. This will be accomplished by comparisons of the dinosaur and plant fossil records using GIS techniques, permitting the first quantitative test of co-evolutionary interactions over extended geological timescales, And Investigating possible linkages between environmental factors (e.g. shifting climatic patterns; changes in palaeogeography) and changes in dinosaur and plant communities:

"Infant diet and health in 18th and 19th Century London: Unlocking the evidence from deciduous teeth"


The primary aim of this project is to investigate the extent and implications of variation in infant health and nursing behaviour in two 18th and 19th century communities from London from different socioeconomic backgrounds. To do this we intend to produce a separate chronological record of developmental disruptions experienced during infancy in each individual based on the distribution of accentuated incremental lines in their tooth enamel and to produce a GIS interpolated contour map of calcium normalised trace element intensities, including strontium, within a deciduous canine and second molar from each of 60 individuals.
External Funding: NERC or Welcome Foundation



To provide a comprehensive biosystematic revision of the Simuliidae of Costa Rica using GIS techniques to model species distribution in relation to geology, precipitation and vegetation This information will provide the necessary baseline data, which will help facilitate the accurate identification of Simuliidae for the ongoing environmental biomonitoring studies in the country.

Selected publications


2008 Butler, R. J., Barrett, P. M., Kenrick, P. & Penn, M. G. Testing co-evolutionary hypotheses over geological timescales: I nteractions between Mesozoic non-avian dinosaurs and cycads; p. 98 in Z. Krempaská (ed.), 6th Meeting of the European Association of Vertebrate Palaeontologists, 30th June-5th July 2008, Spišská Nová Ves, Slovak Republic. The Museum of Spiš, Spišská Nová Ves, 133pp. ISBN: 978-80-85173- 03-1.

2008 Butler, R. J., Barrett, P. M., Penn, M. G. & Kenrick, P. Submitted. Testing Co- evolutionary Hypotheses over Geological Timescales: A New Approach using Geographical Information Systems (GIS). PLoS ONE

2008 Penn, M.G. & Sutton, D.A. Micro-scale vegetation classifications in
Belize. Journal of Biogeography [in press].

2008 Penn, M.G., Moncrieff, C.M., Bridgewater, S.G.M., Garwood, N.C., Bateman, R.M., Chan, I. & Cho, P. Submitted. Using GIS techniques to model the distribution of the economically important xaté palm Chamaedorea ernesti-augustii within the Greater Maya Mountains, Belize. Systematics and Biodiversity.

2008 Penn, M.G., Furley, P.A. & Murray, M. The use of co-Kriging for
comparing edaphic variations over two semi-deciduous tropical forest plots. Journal of Biogeography [in press].

2008 Humphrey, L., Jeffries, T., Dean, C. & Penn, M.G. Submitted. Micro Spatial trace elements distributions in Human Deciduous tooth enamel using LA-ICP-MS. Journal of Archaeological Science.

2008 Humphrey, L., Jeffries, T, Dean, C. & Penn, M.G. Unlocking Evidence of Early Diet from Tooth Enamel. Proceeding of the National Acadamy of Science, vol. 105 (19) 6834-684.

2008 Butler, R.J., Barrett, P.M., Kenrick, P. & Penn, M.G. Submitted. American Naturalist. Testing co-evolutionary hypotheses over geological timescales: interactions between Mesozoic non-avian dinosaurs and cycads

2008 Butler, R. J., Barrett, P. M., Kenrick, P. & Penn, M. G. 2008. Testing co-evolutionary hypotheses over geological timescales using GIS; pp 214–216 in D. Lambrick (ed.), Proceedings of the GIS Research UK 16th Annual Conference, GISRUK 2008, Manchester Metropolitan University, 2–4 April 2008.

2007 Butler, R. J., Barrett, P. M., Kenrick, P. & Penn, M. G. Paleoenvironmental controls on the distribution of Cretaceous herbivorous dinosaurs. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 27 (suppl.): 54A–55A.

2007 Butler, R. J., Barrett, P. M., Rayfield, E. J., Kenrick, P. & Penn, M. G. The use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in evolutionary palaeobiology: examples from Late Triassic tetrapod biostratigraphy and Cretaceous dinosaur-plant co-evolution. The Palaeontological Association Newsletter 66: 66.

2007 Butler, R. J., Barrett, P. M., Kenrick, P. & Penn, M. G. Testing co-evolutionary hypotheses over geological timescales: interactions between Mesozoic non-avian dinosaurs and cycads. Linnean Society of London, Palaeobotany Specialist Group Newsletter 24: 4.

2007 Butler, R. J., Barrett, P. M., Kenrick, P. & Penn, M. G. Palaeoenvironmental controls
On the distribution of Cretaceous herbivorous dinosaurs. http://www.svpca.org/years/2007_glasgow/abstractPage.php?i=13&r=abstracts.php

2006 Bridgewater, S.G.M., Harris, D., Whitefoord, C., Monro, A.L., Penn, M.G., Sutton, D.A., Sayer, B., Adams, B., Balick, D.H., Atha, D.H., Solomon, J. & Holst, B.K. 2006. A preliminary checklist of the vascular plants of the Chiquibul forest, Belize. Edinburgh Journal of Botany 63 (2&3): 1-59

2006 Bridgewater, S.G.M., Pickles, P., Garwood, M., Penn, M.G. & Bateman, R.M. Chamadorea (Xate) in the Greater Maya Mountains and the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, Belize: An economic assessment of an Non-Timber forest product. Economic Botany, 60(3), 265-283

2005 Penn, M.G. 2005. Vice-counties ArcIms database. http://cohune.nhm.ac.uk/website/Vice

2005 Dubbin, W.E., Penn, M.G. & Hodson, M.E. Edaphic Contributions to Species Richness in the Chiquibul Forest of Belize. Geoderma 5, 1-14.

2004 Penn, M.G., Sutton, D.A. & Monro, A.L. Vegetation of the Greater Maya Mountains, Belize. Systematics and biodiversity 2, No 1. 21-44.

2004 Penn, M.G. Botanical collections visit to Victoria Peak, and the high divide within Belize. Carnegie trust of Scotland report, Edinburgh, pp. 1-3.

2004 Penn, M.G., Furley, P.A. & Murray, M. Micro-environmental variability and tropical forest composition in Belize. Caribbean Geography Journal 12, 33-51.

2003 Penn, M.G. Applications of GIS to NHM research projects in Belize. In: Furley, P. Ed., International Journal of Belizean affairs, University College Belize, pp. 5, 94-106.

Penn, M.G. Vegetation across the Chiquibul. Las Cuevas News. Natural History Museum

Penn, M.G. Micro-soil variation in Belize. Las Cuevas News. Natural History Museum

Penn, M.G. Soil micro-variation within in Belize - Plant cuttings, www.nhm.ac.uk

Shelley, A.J., Hernandez, L.M. & Penn, M. 2002. A biosystematic revision of the blackflies (Diptera: Simuliidae) of Belize, Central America. Bulletin of the Natural History Museum London, Entomology series, 71: 135-271.

2002 Hernandez, L.M., Shelley, A.J & Penn. M.G 2002. Human Onchoceriasis in Central Amercia, can it be dispersed to Belize? In: Arcta Tropica: Abstracts. Third European congress on Tropical Medicine and International Health. Elsevier publishing, pp s49.

Penn, M.G. Spatial GIS work at the NHM: GIS at the Natural History Museum. GIS Europe 20, 20-27.

Minty, C.D., Penn., M.G., Sutton, D.A., Rogers, A.D.F., Bateman, R.M., Stafford. P.J. & Sanders, L.M. Wildlife impact assessment: Macal River Upper Storage Facility. The Natural History Museum, London, pp. 1-54.

Penn, M.G., Furley, P.A. & Murray, M. Spatial analysis of micro- environmental change and forest composition in Belize. In: Millington, A., Eds, GIS and Remote Sensing in Biogeography and Ecology. Kluwer Publishing, 162-178.

Shelley, A.J., Luna Dias, A.P.A., Maia-Herzog, M. & Penn, M.G.
Simulium cuasiexiguum, a new blackfly species (Diptera Simuliidae) from the Minacurea in Goias State, Central Brazil. Mem. Inst Oswaldo Cruz, Rio De Janeiro, Vol. 96 (4): 483-496.

Murray, M.R. & Penn, M.G. 1999. Kriging soil depth: the benefits of prior statistical investigation. In: Atkinson, P.M., Riding, A.E. & Tate, N.J., Eds, Proceedings of the Geostats-UK 1999 conference Leicester. University of Leicester, UK, pp. 101-105.

Penn, M. & Furley, P.A. Spatial Analysis of Forest Composition, Productivity and Micro-environmental Variation in Belize, a pilot study. Museum Research Fund Report., The Natural History Museum, London, pp. 1-3.
1998 Penn, M.G. Does three dimensional modeling increase the accuracy of satellite vegetation mapping? In: Healey. R, Ed. Proceedings of the ESRI users conference 1997. University of Southampton, UK, pp 10-15.

1995 Penn, M.G. Life on Earth: GIS at the Natural History Museum. GIS Europe 4, 20-24.

Penn, M.G. Aplicaciones de Sistemas de Información Geográfica en el Museo de Historia Natural de Londres, con respecto a las montanes Maya de Belice, America central. Proceedings of the Iberomarican de sistemas de Información geográfica. pp. 14-21. Universidad de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina.

Penn, M.G. & Sutton, D. Biodiversity - A model for the study of biodiversity and biological resources using plot-based studies, Geographical Information Systems and Satellite Remote Sensing. In Rogers, A.D.F. & Sutton, D.A. (eds), The 1993 Joint Services Scientific Expedition to the Upper Raspaculo, Maya Mountains, Belize. The Natural History Museum, London, B1-B14.