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 David Bartholomew

David Bartholomew

PhD student

 Laver Building 801


Laver Building, University of Exeter, North Park Road, Exeter, EX4 4QE, UK


I am a PhD student at the University of Exeter funded by the NERC GW4+ DTP. I undertook my undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences at the University of Oxford, where I specialised in ecology and evolution. Following this degree, I completed my Master’s in Conservation and Biodiversity at the University of Exeter. My Master’s thesis investigated the effectiveness of electronic monitoring technologies in Peru’s small-scale elasmobranch fishery. Despite this, I have always been fascinated by tropical rainforests. My research now focuses on using plant eco-physiological traits to answer wider environmental and ecological questions. Through these techniques, I aim to understand the impacts of environmental change on wet tropical forests and how tropical trees respond to these changes across their different life history stages. I hope to improve the understanding of these hugely complex ecosystems and to help improve their long-term conservation.

Alongside my PhD research, I have developed many key skills attending courses on statistical modelling, programming and expedition planning. I have also taken an active role as a postgraduate teaching assistant, helping out on several modules including Biogeography and Ecosystems, Tropical Forests in a Changing World and Climate Change and its Impacts. I additionally have acted as an essay mentor for undergraduate students. I have been awarded postgraduate fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society. I also have been involved in setting up a series of public outreach talks, inviting field researchers to share their behind the scenes stories to the wider Exeter community.

Broad research specialisms:

Tropical Forests, Climate Change, Eco-Physiology, Water Dynamics, Carbon Dynamics.


BA (Hons) Biological Sciences 2015, University of Oxford, 1st class
MSc Conservation & Biodiversity 2016, University of Exeter, Distinction with Dean’s commendation

Research group links


Research projects

Project Title:
What eco-physiological traits will facilitate survival in tropical forest trees under environmental change?

Dr Lucy Rowland, Dr Lina Mercado, Dr Lindsay Banin (Edinburgh CEH), Prof David Burslem (University of Aberdeen)

Funding Body:

Project Description:
My research involves investigating how tropical forest trees adapt and respond to environmental stress under a changing climate. In particular, I am interested in understanding how shifts in water, nutrient and light availability affect growth and survival rates. I utilise a range of metabolic and hydrological eco-physiology traits to answer wider ecological questions about the responses of tropical forests to environmental change. My research focuses on both experimental and natural gradients in soil moisture and nutrients across the tropics. The world’s longest running tropical drought experiment in Caxiuanã, Para State, Brazil, is the focal experimental site for my research. Here, 50% of the rainfall has been excluded from a 1 ha plot through the use of plastic panels since 2002. This site allows me to understand how trees of different ages are responding to rapid changes in water availability. In order to identify longer term adaptations to extreme water and nutrient environments, I will utilise a natural water-nutrient gradient in the Sepilok Forest Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia. This site has three distinct forest types, ranging from the nutrient-rich, flood-prone alluvial forest, to the dry, nutrient-poor kerangas forest, with an intermediate terra firme forest. Each of these forests are dominated by the Dipterocarpaceae family. This important family is the focus of my research into long-term adaptations to environmental stress. My key research questions concern understanding how traits differ between habitat specialists and generalists and how they change with ontogenetic development. Overall, I hope to understand how tropical forests will respond to environmental change.


Bartholomew, D.C., Bittencourt, P.R.L., da Costa, A.C.L., Banin, L.F., Brito Costa, P., Coughlin, S.I., Domingues, T.F., Ferreira, L.V., Giles, A., Mencuccini, M., Mercado, L., Miatto, R.C., Oliveira, A., Oliveira, R., Meir, P. and Rowland, L. (2020), Small tropical forest trees have a greater capacity to adjust carbon metabolism to long‐term drought than large canopy trees. Plant Cell Environ. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/pce.13838

Bittencourt, PRL, Oliveira, RS, da Costa, ACL, et al. Amazonia trees have limited capacity to acclimate plant hydraulic properties in response to long‐term drought. Glob Change Biol. 2020; 26: 3569– 3584.

Bartholomew, D.C., Mangel, J.C., Alfaro-Shigueto, J., Pingo, S., Jimenez, A. and Godley, B.J., 2018. Remote electronic monitoring as a potential alternative to on-board observers in small-scale fisheries. Biological Conservation219, pp.35-45.

Williams, HF, Bartholomew, DC, Amakobe, B, Githiru, M. Environmental factors affecting the distribution of African elephants in the Kasigau wildlife corridor, SE Kenya. Afr J Ecol. 2018; 56: 244– 253.


Supervision / Group

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