Our changing forests

Our research explores the broad range of threats facing forest ecosystems from deforestation and pathogen outbreaks to climate change.

South Island forest, image by Satoru Kikuchi
Image by Satoru Kikuchi

Humans depend on the ecological services forests provide, yet globally, forest ecosystems continue to face large-scale threats. New Zealand’s forests are no different. Since the mid-13th century (the time of Polynesian settlement in New Zealand) our forests have declined from nearly 90% of land cover to less than 25% today.

The unique features of our indigenous forests, alongside the challenges of deforestation, pathogens and climate change provide a rich range of research opportunities.

Our research in this area focuses on the dynamics of forest environments past, present and future. It broadly encompasses the long-term dynamics (social, including human impacts and historical context, and ecological) of forest environments and interactions between forests and climate (past, present and future).

We use a variety of methods, including field measurements (stand structural, ecophysiological and biogeochemical), tree-ring approaches (dendrochronology, dendroclimatology and dendroecology), palaeoecological methods (pollen, charcoal, aDNA), and modelling (statistical and simulation).

Our research topics

  • Effects of plant pathogens on forest ecosystem functions
  • Blue carbon dynamics in rapidly expanding mangrove forests
  • Plant traits and ecosystem processes in urban forests 
  • Ecohydrology of plantation forests in South America
  • Carbon cycling processes in forested catchments 
  • Watershed response to chronic nitrogen deposition and acidification
  • Dendrological reconstruction of late Holocene drought dynamics using kauri
  • The geography of the kauri timber industry
  • Timing and impact of human settlement of NZ and associated environment transformation such as fire and avifaunal extinction
  • Dynamics of fire-prone landscapes in New Zealand and beyond

Our researchers