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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  People  /  Research Staff  /  Ambroise Baker

Ambroise Baker

Post-doctoral Researcher

abaker.jpgDepartment of Geography
University College London
Pearson Building, Gower Street,
London  WC1E 6BT


E-Mail: ambroise.baker@ucl.ac.uk

Research blog: https://ambroisebakerresearch.wordpress.com/

Room: 201A, Pearson Building

 

 

 

2016-present        Post-doctoral Research Assistant, University College London, Department of Geography, UK. Working on Hydroscape a NERC highlight topic project, PI Prof Nigel Willby, University of Stirling. UCL co-PIs: Prof Neil Rose, Dr Carl Sayer, Dr Helen Bennion and Prof Viv Jones.

 

2014-2015            60% FTE Post-doctoral Research Assistant, University College London, Department of Geography, UK. Working on NERC-BESS research grant Lake BESS, PI Dr Carl Sayer. I have led the planning and execution of the entire project including budget management, field work, data collating, analysis and write up. I report our progress on our blog “Lake BESS”.

 

2013-2015            60% FTE Stay-at-home Dad. I had to take multi-tasking, prioritisation, time management and learning new skills to a whole new level in order to write up my thesis and conduct my post-doctoral research while looking after our daughter 3-5 days a week from her birth in January 2013 to January 2016.

 

2009-2014           D.Phil (PhD) in Ecology, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, UK. “Holocene tree cover and large-herbivore densities in Europe”. Supervision: Prof Kathy Willis and Dr Shonil Bhagwat, NERC studentship.

 

2008-2009           MSc in Quaternary Science, University College London and Royal Holloway, UK. Prize for Best Student. “Long-term origin of plant loss in Blickling Hall Lake, Norfolk”. Supervision: Dr Carl Sayer, NERC studentship.

 

2006-2008           BSc Honours (First) in Botany, University of Reading, UK. “Late-quaternary palaeovegetation from the Blackwater Valley, SE England”. Supervision: Dr Michael Keith-Lucas.

In addition, I am a keen field botanist and I am also developing my skills in bryology.

2nd Post-doc project:

See the Hydroscape blog for further information

 

1st Post-doc project:

For the Lake BESS project, we are looking into how biodiversity regulates ecological balance within lakes and would like to assess the consequences of biodiversity loss for the provision of ecosystem services.

Ecosystem services from lakes are extremely diverse: recreation, tourism, water purification, flood prevention, provision of fish for anglers and fisheries and other supporting services such as carbon storage for climate mitigation.

Because of this variety, changes in lake ecological functioning may affect the different services in different ways, rendering best practices for restoration and management difficult to establish.

One aspect we are particularly interested to develop in LakeBESS is the importance of ecological connectivity between lakes for their biodiversity. Connectivity may be a major factor determining lake ecosystem resilience because it counter-balances the negative effect of local extinction by increasing species re-colonisation.

 

PhD work:

My PhD thesis addressed the methodological challenges of determining the variability of large herbivore populations through time and their impact on European vegetation. Large herbivores are at the heart of conservation policy, however, opinions widely diverge on whether we should aim for fewer herbivores and managed populations or, on the contrary, as advocated by the rewilding movement, more herbivores and self-regulating populations acting as ecosystem engineers.

This controversy has roots in a debate regarding the nature of ecosystems before the prevalence of human activities. Baseline ecosystems are either described as continuous forest cover with passive large herbivores, or, in contrast, as mosaics with patchy forest cover driven inter alia by bison, aurochs and horses, now rare or extinct in Europe.

The main obstacle in moving this debate forward is a poor understanding of large-herbivore densities in the past. I analysed modern pollen and spore assemblages from known environmental settings to improve palaeoecological interpretation of fossil assemblages dating the pre-human (baseline) period.

The sites investigated are the rewilded grasslands of the Oostvaardersplassen (The Netherlands), the mosaic habitats of The New Forest (UK) and the old-growth closed-canopy forest of Białowieża (Poland).

I demonstrate that the common practice of interpreting pollen percentages fails to estimate past forest cover in situations with natural grazing. As an explanation, I suggest that pollen productivity fluctuates with biotic factors such as herbivory and canopy shading. As a result, new insights into the baseline debate require additional lines of evidence.

Thus I developed an existing methodology to reconstruct past herbivore presence using fossil dung fungal spores. I synthesised our knowledge on this method with an emphasis on spore identification and, finally, I demonstrate that dung fungal spore abundance in lake sediments can be translated into large herbivore numbers.

The evidence presented herein contributes to the debate on re-wilding, thereby addressing the fundamental challenge of nature conservation in the human-dominated landscapes of Europe.

Baker, A.G., Cornelissen, P., Bhagwat, S.A., Vera, F.W.M. & Willis, KJ. (2016) Quantification of population sizes of large herbivores and their long-term functional role in ecosystems using dung fungal spores. Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

Nogué, S., Whicher, K., Baker, A.G., Bhagwat, S.A. & Willis, K.J. (2016) Phytolith analysis reveals the intensity of past land use change in the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot. Quaternary International.

Baker, A.G., Zimny, M., Keczyński, A., Bhagwat, S.A., Willis, K.J., Latałowa, M. (2016) Pollen productivity estimates from old-growth forest strongly differ from those obtained in cultural landscapes: Evidence from the Białowieża National Park, Poland. The Holocene.

Seddon A.W.R., Mackay A.W., Baker, A.G., et al. (66 other authors) (2014) Looking forward through the past. Identification of fifty priority research questions in palaeoecology. Journal of Ecology. 102, 256–267.
Baker, A.G., Bhagwat, S.A., Willis, K.J. (2013) Do dung fungal spores make a good proxy for past distribution of large herbivores? Quaternary Science Reviews 62, 21–31.

Baker, A.G., Bhagwat, S.A., Willis, K.J. (2013) Do dung fungal spores make a good proxy for past distribution of large herbivores? Quaternary Science Reviews 62, 21–31.

Kirby, K.J. & Baker, A. (2013)  The dynamics of pre-Neolithic landscapes and their relevance to modern conservation.  In Trees, forested landscapes and grazing animals, edited by I.D. Rotherham, Earthscan,Routledge, Abingdon,  pp87-98

Jenkins EL, Baker AG, Elliot S. (2011) Plant Use in Jordan as revealed by archaeological and ethnoarchaeological phytolith signatures. In Mithen S. and Black E. (Eds.) Water, Life and Civilisation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Baker AG, Jenkins EL. (Submitted). Phytolith. In Baird D (Eds.) Monograph of the Shuna Project (Jordan 5th and 4th millennia city site)

Delabays, N., Bohren, C., Mermillod, G., Baker, A., and Vertenten, J. (2008) Breaking the life cycle of the Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia L.) to exhaust the seed bank. I. Efficiency and optimisation of various mowing schemes. Revue Suisse d’Agriculture, 40, 143-149.  (Publication in French with English abstract)

Delabays, N., Bohren, C., Mermillod, G., Baker, A., and Vertenten, J. (2008) Breaking the life cycle of the Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia L.) to exhaust the seed bank. II. Efficiency of herbicides, used singly or in combination with mowing. Revue Suisse d’Agriculture, 40, 191-198. (Publication in French with English abstract)

Please visit my research website https://ambroisebakerresearch.wordpress.com/