Rob Davies



My PhD research evaluates how biodiversity is structured in savanna ecosystems over broad environmental and disturbance gradients, and how biodiversity in low-intensity farmland in West Africa could be protected through carbon-based payments for ecosystem services (PES).

Savannas cover one-fifth of the Earth’s surface and are responsible for up to 30% of terrestrial primary productivity. The distribution of savannas is limited by fire and precipitation regimes globally and characterised by the co-existence of trees and grasses that supports substantial biodiversity. Over 50% of Africa is covered by savanna, with the world’s largest savanna occurring in southern and eastern Africa - supporting the livelihoods of 150 million people. Despite harbouring high biodiversity and being globally important carbon sinks – a function underpinned by their tree diversity - the processes that structure the biodiversity of savanna woodlands remain understudied.

The climate-richness relationship is one of the most widely observed broad scale patterns in ecology, with several proposed mechanisms. The bulk of research focusing on patterns of plant species composition in the tropics is based on tropical moist forests, but whether these same processes are replicated in globally important, disturbance-driven savannas is unresolved. My research aims to further understanding of the patterns of and mechanisms driving tree community assembly in savannas. I will focus on the southern African woodlands – the World’s largest savanna – using a large dataset from the SEOSAW network which spans twelve countries in southern Africa and covers a wide range of climatic conditions and disturbance regimes. I will assess how the alpha-, beta-, phylogenetic-, and functional-diversity of savanna communities changes over these broad gradients. Using this to interpret which mechanisms are important for deciding community composition in savanna ecosystems.

About me

Outside of research I enjoy being outdoors as much as possible, either running up hills, climbing, or cycling. I also enjoy a fair amount of bird watching either out in the peaks or on trips with friends. I do enjoy a pub and almost any live music. The rest of my free time is mostly spent watching and playing football or lay down either in front of the TV or with a book.