Postgraduate Research Highlights

For this issue we reached out to our PGR members to tell us about their current research and its implications for landscape ecology. What they have shared forms a story of how researchers from a range of disciplines are working to build our ecological knowledge to create better landscapes for the future. Our highlights here range from hardcore soil science to consideration of the role of culture and the arts in landscape ecology.

The potential to transform landscapes through rewilding

Sally Hawkins, Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Cumbria

The concept of rewilding emerged in North America and Western Europe in the 1990s and has become increasingly popular around the world. Since it emerged, the concept has been interpreted and applied in different ways, resulting in confusion and debate over its meaning in theory and practice. While rewilding literature often focuses on the ecological aims of rewilding, since its conception rewilding has been concerned with landscapes, so there is increasing acceptance that in order to achieve its ecological aims, rewilding must integrate socio-cultural and systemic change, including a paradigm shift in human-nature relationships.

I am an active member of the IUCN CEM Rewilding Thematic Group which was established in 2017 to synthesise and streamline the practice of rewilding. We published a definition and guiding principles for rewilding in 2021 (Carver et al., 2021) after a global consultation with over 100 rewilding experts. In my PhD research, I continue working to enhance our understanding of rewilding’s transformative potential. I am using a grounded theory approach, and in analysing data from a survey of rewilding experts and key rewilding texts, I have identified some common themes relating to the long-term aims of rewilding, which focus on promoting ecological change, socio-cultural change and systemic (or landscape)-level change.

Rewilding aims for resilient, sustainable, wild landscapes; for nature that can be itself and look after itself; for societal wellbeing and for people to accommodate nature in their landscapes. While these aims are very broad, I have also identified in the data qualities which would enhance the potential to achieve these aims, such as coexistence, ecological integrity, tolerance and ecocentrism. As my work develops, I hope to integrate the aims of rewilding and principles of practice in rewilding theory of change.

If you are interested in hearing more, please feel free to get in touch with me;

A transdisciplinary approach to landscape-scale ecology

Kathryn Nelson, Postgraduate Researcher at Queens University Belfast

My current research is investigating the dissemination of ecological knowledge through culture, particularly visual art. This transdisciplinary area of research may seem irrelevant to landscape scale ecology, yet in many ways the reverse is true, especially since landscape ecology can be defined as the study of the relationship between the temporal and spatial facets of landscape and the biota within it. This connection between space, time and the structure and fabric of the landscape, is in many ways dependent on our species’ interaction with the natural environment. If this argument is taken to its logical conclusion, the culture of our species dictates how the landscape is shaped over both space and time.

Before I develop this argument further, I believe it is important to first define what is meant by culture in my research. I have taken the theorist Raymond Williams’ (1961) definition of culture as a ‘whole way of life’, since it provides a link to farming, forestry, architecture, and landscape design. Our species’ way of life both forms and dictates the landscape. We are, after all eco-engineers, who transport, change, and plant the landscape for it to better suit our way of life.

Each landscape transformation is caused by a cultural change in how we use and exploit the natural environment. It is at this point where the strands of culture and ecology meet that my research concentrates. Our species’ way of life may negatively impact and exploit the environment, but it can also narrate ecological knowledge through cultural text. My research is specifically focused on how the visual arts are responding to the environmental crisis within Northern Ireland. Visual art can document our species interaction with nature, but art can also be subversive.

For further information please contact


Williams, Raymond. 1961. The Long Revolution. London UK: Chatto and Windus

Mycorrhizal mediation in woodlands – why mycorrhizal type of woody plants is important

Petra Guy, Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Reading

The majority of plant species associate with mycorrhizal fungi which colonise plant roots, supplying nutrients and conferring drought tolerance and disease resistance. Mycorrhizal type is the name of the plant functional trait which encompasses the phyla and morphology of the fungal symbiont in the plant root.  AM type plants associate with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal (AMF); this is the most common type and occurs with grasses, herbs and some trees. In temperate woodlands the majority of our trees are EM type, associating with a different group of fungi, ectomycorrhizal fungi (EMF). Since temperate woodlands can be dominated by EM type trees, such as beech or oak, AM inoculum supply for understory plants, which are in general AM type, can be in short supply. This has implications for woodland ecosystems functions, such as understorey species richness.

As part of my PhD research, I modelled the effect of the proportion of AM type trees on understorey richness in British woodlands. I found a positive significant effect which persisted across 30 years of woodland succession, suggesting that the effect of AM type trees is important both in unshaded and shaded woods. Landscape scale effects, such as surrounding or past land use or woodland heterogeneity were not modelled, but were important, as seen by the large effect size for the random intercept in the mixed effects model.  Knowledge of mycorrhizal type of woodland trees is therefore important since this work suggests that the relatively straightforward practice of interplanting AM type hosts may be a tractable approach to increase woodland biodiversity.

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If you would like to highlight your work here in future please contact our PGR representative Caitlin Lewis-