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Dr Andrew M. Cunliffe

Dr Andrew M. Cunliffe

Oppenheimer Senior Research Fellow and African Landscape Systems Programme Leader

 Amory C249


Amory Building, University of Exeter, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4RJ , UK


I lead a large and diverse research group studying Terrestrial Ecosystem Science and Services (TESS Lab) and I lead the 'Oppenheimer Research Programme in African Landscape Systems', a six-year programme of foundational and applied scientific work focussed on environmental sustainability in Africa.

Broad research specialisms:

Terrestrial Ecosystem Science and Services / Remote Sensing / Ecosystem Structure and Function / Environmental Change / Dryland Carbon Dynamics


PhD Physical Geography (University of Exeter)
MSc Catchment Dynamics and Management (University of Leeds)
BSc Physical Geography (University of Exeter)


I obtained my first degree in Physical Geography at the University of Exeter (2008-2011). I then went on to complete an MSc in Catchment Dynamics and Management at the University of Leeds (2011-2012), before returning to Exeter for my doctorate (2012-2016), studying the stocks and movement of carbon in the Chihuahuan Desert. I then worked as a NERC Post-Doctoral Research Assistant in Tundra Drone Ecology with Team Shrub at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences (2016 – 2017). In 2018 I returned to Exeter as a Research Co-Investigator on the NERC-funded DRIVING-C project, studying the trends and interannual variability in dryland carbon dynamics. Since October 2021, I lead the Oppenheimer Research Programme in African Landscape Systems at the University of Exeter.

Research group links

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Research interests

My research focuses on the stocks and fluxes of carbon in dryland ecosystems. While carbon stocks are relatively low in drylands on a per-unit-area basis, the large global extent of water-limited ecosystems and their variability through time means that they play a major role in the global carbon cycles. In my work, I seek new insights in the structure and function of dryland ecosystems in order to refine numerical models of their behavior.

I have ongoing interests in the measurement of vegetation attributes such as aboveground biomass with drone photogrammetry, the lateral redistribution of organic and inorganic carbon by surface runoff, and the measurement of rapidly changing ecosystems in the Arctic.

Research projects

'Oppenheimer Research Programme in African Landscape Systems', a six-year programme of foundational and applied scientific work jointly funded by Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation and the University of Exeter.

Tropical Forest Protection and Restoration: Understanding carbon storage within degraded and recovering forest ecosystems, funded by the A.G. Leventis Foundation awarded to T. Lenton, T. Powell, T. Feldpausch and A. Cunliffe

DRIVING-C - Do dryland ecosystems control variability and recent trends in the land CO2 sink? (NE/R00062X/1) Research Co-Investigator, working with R. Brazier, S. Sitch, K. Anderson, and T. Hill.


Research grants

  • 2022 Shangani Holistic
    Funding from industry partner Shangani Holistic to sponsor an applied PhD studentship studying management of shrub encroachment on African rangelands as part of OPALS, awarded to A. Cunliffe (PI). External.
  • 2022 Permian Global
    Second round of funding from industry partner Permian Global to support more scientific evidencing of payments for ecosystem services over three years, awarded to A. Cunliffe (PI) & T. Feldpausch (CI). External.

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Journal articles

Lenton T, Buxton J, Abrams J, Boulton C, Powell T, Cunliffe A (In Press). A resilience sensing system for the biosphere. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences Abstract.
Cunliffe A, Anderson K (In Press). Measuring Above-ground Biomass with Drone Photogrammetry: Data Collection Protocol. Nature Protocol Exchange
Lenton TM, Abrams JF, Bartsch A, Bathiany S, Boulton CA, Buxton JE, Conversi A, Cunliffe AM, Hebden S, Lavergne T, et al (2024). Publisher Correction: Remotely sensing potential climate change tipping points across scales. Nature Communications, 15(1).
Lenton TM, Abrams JF, Bartsch A, Bathiany S, Boulton CA, Buxton JE, Conversi A, Cunliffe AM, Hebden S, Lavergne T, et al (2024). Remotely sensing potential climate change tipping points across scales. Nat Commun, 15(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Millner N, Cunliffe AM, Mulero-Pázmány M, Newport B, Sandbrook C, Wich S (2023). Exploring the opportunities and risks of aerial monitoring for biodiversity conservation. Global Social Challenges Journal, 2, 2-23.
Zhu S, McCalmont J, Cardenas LM, Cunliffe AM, Olde L, Signori-Müller C, Litvak ME, Hill T (2023). Gap-filling carbon dioxide, water, energy, and methane fluxes in challenging ecosystems: Comparing between methods, drivers, and gap-lengths. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 332 Abstract.
Slade G, Fawcett D, Cunliffe AM, Brazier RE, Nyaupane K, Mauritz M, Vargas S, Anderson K (2023). Optical reflectance across spatial scales—an intercomparison of transect-based hyperspectral, drone, and satellite reflectance data for dry season rangeland. Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems (JUVS), 11, 1-20.
Jackman A, Millner N, Cunliffe AM, Laumonier Y, Lunstrum E, Paneque-Gálvez J, Wich SA (2023). Protecting people and wildlife from the potential harms of drone use in biodiversity conservation: interdisciplinary dialogues. Global Social Challenges Journal, 2, 68-83.
Gallois EC, Myers-Smith IH, Daskalova GN, Kerby JT, Thomas HJD, Cunliffe AM (2023). Summer litter decomposition is moderated by scale-dependent microenvironmental variation in tundra ecosystems. Oikos, 2023(11). Abstract.
McIntire CD, Cunliffe AM, Boschetti F, Litvak ME (2022). Allometric Relationships for Predicting Aboveground Biomass, Sapwood, and Leaf Area of Two-Needle Piñon Pine (Pinus edulis) Amid Open-Grown Conditions in Central New Mexico. Forest Science, 68(2), 152-161.
Fawcett D, Cunliffe AM, Sitch S, O’Sullivan M, Anderson K, Brazier RE, Hill TC, Anthoni P, Arneth A, Arora VK, et al (2022). Assessing Model Predictions of Carbon Dynamics in Global Drylands. Frontiers in Environmental Science, 10 Abstract.
Cunliffe AM, Anderson K, Boschetti F, Brazier RE, Graham HA, Myers-Smith IH, Astor T, Boer MM, Calvo LG, Clark PE, et al (2022). Global application of an unoccupied aerial vehicle photogrammetry protocol for predicting aboveground biomass in non-forest ecosystems. REMOTE SENSING IN ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION, 8(1), 57-71.  Author URL.
Cunliffe AM, Boschetti F, Clement R, Sitch S, Anderson K, Duman T, Zhu S, Schlumpf M, Litvak ME, Brazier RE, et al (2022). Strong Correspondence in Evapotranspiration and Carbon Dioxide Fluxes Between Different Eddy Covariance Systems Enables Quantification of Landscape Heterogeneity in Dryland Fluxes. Journal of Geophysical Research Biogeosciences, 127(8).
Cunliffe AM, J Assmann J, N Daskalova G, Kerby JT, Myers-Smith IH (2020). Aboveground biomass corresponds strongly with drone-derived canopy height but weakly with greenness (NDVI) in a shrub tundra landscape. Environmental Research Letters, 15(12), 125004-125004. Abstract.
Cunliffe AM, McIntire CD, Boschetti F, Sauer KJ, Litvak M, Anderson K, Brazier RE (2020). Allometric Relationships for Predicting Aboveground Biomass and Sapwood Area of Oneseed Juniper (Juniperus monosperma) Trees. Frontiers in Plant Science, 11 Abstract.  Author URL.
Myers-Smith IH, Kerby JT, Phoenix GK, Bjerke JW, Epstein HE, Assmann JJ, John C, Andreu-Hayles L, Angers-Blondin S, Beck PSA, et al (2020). Complexity revealed in the greening of the Arctic. Nature Climate Change, 10(2), 106-117. Abstract.
Assmann JJ, Myers-Smith IH, Kerby JT, Cunliffe AM, Daskalova GN (2020). Drone data reveal heterogeneity in tundra greenness and phenology not captured by satellites. ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH LETTERS, 15(12).  Author URL.
Cunliffe AM, Anderson K, Boschetti F, Brazier RE, Graham HA, Myers-Smith IH, Astor T, Boer MM, Calvo L, Clark PE, et al (2020). Drone-derived canopy height predicts biomass across non-forest ecosystems globally. Abstract.
Cunliffe A (2019). Author responses to refaree feedback.
Myers-Smith IH, Grabowski MM, Thomas HJD, Angers-Blondin S, Daskalova GN, Bjorkman AD, Cunliffe AM, Assmann JJ, Boyle JS, McLeod E, et al (2019). Eighteen years of ecological monitoring reveals multiple lines of evidence for tundra vegetation change. Ecological Monographs, 89(2). Abstract.
Cunliffe A, Tanski G, Radosavljevic B, Palmer W, Sachs T, Lantuit H, Kerby J, Myers-Smith I (2019). Rapid retreat of permafrost coastline observed with aerial drone photogrammetry. Cryosphere, 13(5), 1513-1528. Abstract.
Assmann JJ, Kerby JT, Cunliffe AM, Myers-Smith IH (2019). Vegetation monitoring using multispectral sensors — best practices and lessons learned from high latitudes. Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems, 7(1), 54-75. Abstract.
Karthikeyan, K, Vasu, D, Tiwary, P, Cunliffe AM, Chandran, P, Mariappan S, Singh S (2018). Comparison of methods for evaluating the suitability of Vertisols for Gossypium hirsutum (Bt cotton) in two contrasting agro-ecological regions. Archives of Agronomy and Soil Science Abstract.
Cunliffe A, Anderson K, Duffy JP, DeBell L (2017). A UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)-approved operations manual for safe deployment of lightweight drones in research. International Journal of Remote Sensing, 1-8.
Puttock A, Graham HA, Cunliffe AM, Elliott M, Brazier RE (2017). Eurasian beaver activity increases water storage, attenuates flow and mitigates diffuse pollution from intensively-managed grasslands. Science of the Total Environment, 576, 430-443.
Duffy J, Cunliffe A, DeBell L, Sandbrook C, Wich S, Shutler JD, Myers-Smith IH, Varela MR, Anderson K (2017). Location, location, location: Considerations when using lightweight drones in challenging environments. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation
Cunliffe AM, Puttock AK, Turnbull L, Wainwright J, Brazier RE (2016). Dryland, calcareous soils store (and lose) significant quantities of near‐surface organic carbon. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 121(4), 684-702. Abstract.
Cunliffe A, Brazier RE, Anderson K (2016). Ultra-fine grain landscape-scale quantification of dryland vegetation structure with drone-acquired structure-from-motion photogrammetry. Remote Sensing of Environment, 183, 129-143. Abstract.
Puttock A, Cunliffe AM, Anderson K, Brazier RE (2015). Aerial photography collected with a multirotor drone reveals impact of Eurasian beaver reintroduction on ecosystem structure. Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems  Author URL.
Cunliffe AM, Baird AJ, Holden J (2013). Hydrological hotspots in blanket peatlands: Spatial variation in peat permeability around a natural soil pipe. Water Resources Research, 49(9), 5342-5354. Abstract.

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Supervision / Group

Postgraduate researchers

  • Emily Doyle Using novel spaceborne lidar to assess degradation and resilience of Amazon carbons stocks
  • Antony Philip Emenyu The spread of regenerative farming practices by smallholder farmers in Africa
  • Guy Lomax
  • Glenn Slade The social-ecological impacts of invasive plants in the UK and Botswana
  • Jess Thomas Ecological and environmental drivers of carbon storage and resilience in degraded areas of the Amazon


  • Fabio Boschetti Measuring exchanges of energy, carbon, and water with eddy covariance in drylands

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