Evaluating the role of biodiversity in delivering sustainable nature-based solutions to climate change

Hills covered in forest touching the clouds

Tropical rainforest in the island of Fatu Iva, Marquesas islands, image by Sémhur (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In the wake of missed climate and biodiversity targets, the concept of 'Nature-based Solutions' (NbS) has emerged as a possible win-win that can address both climate and biodiversity crises simultaneously.

A high-profile forecast that protection and restoration of ecosystems can provide a third of the climate action needed by 2030 has led to endorsements of NbS by the corporate sector and many national governments.

Under the Bonn Challenge, 62 countries have pledged to restore 170 million ha of deforested or degraded land and intend to meet nearly half of these commitments with tree plantations. 

At an even larger scale, the Trillion Tree Campaign was announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 2020, based on plans to restore vast areas of forest worldwide by the end of the decade. Although broadly welcomed, these initiatives are risky. In particular, their potential to deliver the intended benefits has not been rigorously assessed, leading to concerns over reliability and cost-effectiveness. 

Indeed, many previous tree planting or reforestation programmes have failed, seemingly because they paid little attention to factors such as disease prevention, water supply, seed dispersal and pest control, all of which may be delivered at much reduced cost in natural systems with high levels of biodiversity.

This project will assess how forestry practices can be scaled up without compromising biodiversity, and in turn how biodiversity plays a role in promoting positive outcomes for forestry.

The core analyses will be based on published and unpublished datasets from established study systems in sub-Saharan Africa (Ghana) and South America (Colombia) where field teams are currently quantifying biodiversity and productivity across agroforestry and plantation forestry landscapes, as well as adjacent natural regrowth.

At both sites, we have access to systematic collections of insects and faecal samples from the dominant insectivorous bird species and the student may contribute to ongoing field sampling, assuming travel is permitted. They will also receive training in sequencing barcodes and assembling interaction networks between birds and their insect prey across different land-uses and forestry practices. In addition, industry partners have provided data on tree growth and survival, allowing an assessment of links between biodiversity (including habitat, taxonomic and functional diversity) and the success of forestry projects (including cost-effectiveness and carbon uptake).

The results will improve understanding of best practices in building biodiversity-based resilience into multifunctional landscapes, a key step towards ensuring that NbS can achieve their potential to tackle both climate and biodiversity crises while also contributing to sustainable economic development.

How to apply

Apply for this course through the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet Doctoral Training Partnership website

The deadline for applications is 4 January 2021.

Apply for this project

Read more about the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet Doctoral Training Partnership (SSCP DTP)

Application deadline: 4 January 2021

Any questions?

Imperial College London

Lead supervisor: Joseph Tobias


Natural History Museum

Prof Alfried Vogler

Oxford University

Prof Nathalie Seddon

Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet (SSCP) doctoral training partnership

This is a joint project between The Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet (SSCP) Doctoral Training Partnership at Imperial College London and The Natural History Museum.

Funded by