At Trees for Life we strive to use up-to-date scientific research to inform our forest restoration work, to promote greater understanding of the Caledonian Forest ecosystem, and to further the science of ecological restoration. We have been working with a number of universities since 1989. We greatly appreciate the work that has been carried out for us over the years (see Scientific Research in the Caledonian Forest), and also feel that we suggest interesting and rewarding dissertation topics.
These projects are primarily aimed at BSc and MSc students, and the more in-depth ones are geared towards PhD candidates. If you are interested in carrying out any of the projects below, we would be happy to hear from you. We will refer you to the Forestry Commission Scotland where the proposal concerns land which they manage. Many of the projects have a degree of flexibility, so if you have particular areas of interest, there may be an opportunity to tailor the project accordingly. Others will need further thought to develop an initial idea. If you have any other proposals for dissertations related to the Caledonian Forest then please get in touch. How to contact us.
We offer initial and ongoing discussions around the research topic and possible leads/contacts for you to follow up. However, students will need initiative and a high degree of self reliance to develop their research. We assume that academic supervision is via your tutor and the project ideas will usually require further distillation by the student and their tutor to meet course requirements.
If it's a field based project we will have at least one site meeting with you. There would be ongoing contact if the work is based at our Dundreggan Estate. We can usually offer some free accommodation at Dundreggan, for a limited time, where research is based there or nearby; unfortunately we can't offer any direct financial support. Your own transport would be essential.
Possible Subjects for Research Projects:
Mycorrhizal research in the pinewoods of Glen Affric/Moriston
In healthy forests, mycorrhizal fungi play an important role in the ecosystem. We would welcome substantial research (eg for a doctorate) on mycorrhizal fungi associated with the various tree species in Glen Affric or on our Dundreggan Estate in Glen Moriston. Research could focus on one or a number of aspects that would provide valuable information for us in planning forest restoration work. Possible subjects for this include mapping out the distribution of mycorrhizal fungi, particularly in locations where the forest has declined or disappeared recently (how long do mycorrhizal fungi persist after the tree cover has been removed?); researching which mycorrhizal fungi are associated with which tree species in the glen, particularly focussing on the scarcer and little-studied tree species there (eg oak, aspen, hazel etc.); comparing the presence of mycorrhizal fungal in mature pinewood with newly planted areas, naturally regenerating areas, and commercial Scots pine plantations in the glen. The study could also explore the potential role of mycorrhizal inoculation in regeneration schemes; establishing and evaluating trial plots where differing techniques of mycorrhizal inoculation are used in areas where trees have been planted.
Research into possible financial benefits to the Highlands & local employment prospects of the return of a wild forest on a large scale
We believe that for a truly sustainable future in Scotland, the country needs large areas of natural, wild ecosystems along with employment for local people, and that these two are linked. There is a need for research into the possible economic impact of our proposals and opportunities for job creation associated with large-scale ecological restoration of the Caledonian Forest.
Investigating the feasibility of restoring native ground flora to upland oak/birchwood (NVC types W11 & 17) and native pinewoods (W18).
Forest degradation has resulted not only in a loss of trees from large areas of the Highlands, but also in the deterioration of native ground flora. Some work has already taken place with the restoration of flora in lowland woodlands, but very little has been attempted with restoring the ground layer in native upland forest. As part of our Native Ground Flora Restoration Project, 2 MSc students have recently investigated the environmental factors associated with twinflower (Linnaea borealis) and the potential for restoring the flora of native pinewoods in Glen Affric. Further work is still required on the restoration of various plant species such as the wintergreens (Pyrola & Moneses spp) to native pinewoods.
Parallel studies, examining the potential for restoration of plants such as small cow-wheat (Melampyrum sylvaticum), wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), primrose (Primula vulgaris), wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) or bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) to upland oak/birchwoods, would be very useful. Microclimatic factor such as aspect/light and soils could be used to predict and prioritise where plants could be introduced.
Mountain woodland: Glen Affric.
The lost mountain woodland of Scotland is largely a missing habitat, in part it is believed due to browsing pressures over the centuries. Treeline scrub/Krummholz vegetation is a high priority for restoration and it has been recommended that it should be clearly encompassed within relevant priority habitats, such as Upland Birchwoods and Native Pinewoods. The biodiversity status of the montane scrub zone has recently been recognised with the inclusion of Montane Heaths and Willow Scrub as a Priority Habitat in the 2007 BAP Review and some interesting fragments and species do survive. One area, above Glen Affric, has a good population of Dwarf Birch, Betula nana, and unusual areas of snowbed vegetation beneath scattered treeline Scots Pine. It would be interesting to analyse the vegetation community here and undertake a survey of tree distribution and regeneration.
Ecological processes which influence the restoration of W18 Scots Pine woodland.
During 1995-98 Michelle Crowell studied the ecological processes which influence the performance of Scots Pine seedlings, planted at Athnamulloch in Glen Affric in 1991-92, for her doctorate at Cambridge University (see Ecological processes which influence the performance of planted Scots pine seedlings).
She noted two of the assumptions made in our work to ‘restore’ the Caledonian Forest. Firstly that the basic conditions required for tree seedling growth into mature trees persist at treeless sites, and are facilitated by low-impact planting; and secondly that successful establishment of the trees will encourage the natural development of the other elements of the Caledonian Forest, including colonisation by native plants, animals, and micro-organisms.
Her work focused on the first of these assumptions. The three-year period of thesis research was too short to investigate the second. However, some of the planted trees are now 5-6m tall and producing their own seed. How far have the ecological processes developed over the last 20 years? Michelle established a baseline for studying this assumption over the long term. All of the seedlings examined in the thesis were tagged with an identification number linking them to a GIS at the core of her research.
Now is a good time to re-visit Athnamulloch to assess how far the ecological processes have developed. This could include an assessment of the success rate of tree establishment at the site, work on vegetation mapping, surveys for associated species, and soil and mycorrhizal analysis. As Michelle said “If anything, the most exciting results are yet to come! My thesis provides a 'snapshot' of seedling performance four to five years after planting. We may find that the patterns of both tree performance and ground flora change drastically in the years to come." Indeed, photos show a dramatic change in a relatively short time period.
Monitoring the seasonal movements of deer on the Dundreggan Estate.
Red deer are a key part of our forest ecosystems, but their numbers are now unsustainably high due to a loss of predators, among other factors. To manage deer numbers effectively we need to understand more about their movements and impacts. This project would involve the use of GPS collars to gather essential data. The findings will inform restoration efforts on our estate.
Monitoring the impacts of deer on the Dundreggan Estate.
It is essential to manage deer populations and movements in order to promote the regeneration of healthy woodlands. By using camera traps we hope to gain an insight into times when deer browse on regenerating trees on specific area of the Dundreggan Estate. This will enable us to plan deer management using disturbance regimes etc, to help achieve a healthy mosaic of habitats.
Translocation of wood ants on the Dundreggan Estate.
Wood ants (Formica lugubris) are an important species in the Caledonian Forest ecosystem. However some pinewood remnants no longer contain wood ants, even when the habitat is suitable. Because the remnants are isolated by distances greater than those over which winged ants fly, natural recolonisation is unlikely to occur. We would like to explore techniques for translocating these insects to new locations. This project would involve mapping locations of existing nests, developing a translocation protocol, and monitoring and assessing the success of the techniques used.
Ecology and regeneration of juniper in Glen Affric/Moriston.
Juniper (Juniperus communis), a priority species in Scotland, is often thought of as being on the edge of its range in Glen Affric, as the relatively high rainfall and wet soil conditions do not suit it. However, juniper is spontaneously regenerating inside a number of fenced exclosures in the glen. Research to study this, and the production of distribution maps for juniper in the glen would be very useful. The relevant parameters that could be analysed in such a study include soil types and conditions where the regeneration is occurring; growth rates and age of the junipers; distance from seed source/parent trees; and the presence of mycorrhizal fungi associated with juniper. Comparisons could be made with its distribution in Glen Moriston, to the south, where juniper is much more abundant. On our Dundreggan Estate there, juniper occurs over much of the site and appears to be spreading from east to west – an analysis and study of its distribution and pattern of regeneration would be very helpful. For further info see the Juniper Action Plan
Ecology of pine snags in Glen Affric.
In the pinewood remnants of Glen Affric there are quite a number of standing dead trees, or snags. We would welcome research into the ecology of these, along with dating of snags using dendrochronology techniques. An extension of this research could involve making predictions on the future abundance of snags. Suggestions could be made for the management of Scots pine plantations in the glen to artificially create snags.
Climate change and native trees: dendrochronology.
Forest Research are currently looking at the response of the tree ring growth pattern of oak from central Scotland to past climatic events, and planning to look at juniper. This links in with the impact of a changing climate and how our native trees will respond to these changes. If we can determine the main driver(s) of change (by looking at the ring pattern in conjunction with past climate data) we can then look at the predictions from IPCC climate models and determine ‘if’ and ‘what’ will be the effects on native tree growth. It could also be possible to determine if climate adaptation is happening by comparing responses between different generations of trees of the same species. Comparable studies looking at oak and juniper in the west Highlands would be welcomed as there may well be significant regional variations.
Using GIS to look at the changing native forest network in an area of the West Highlands.
Over the last 20 years TFL has worked in a 1500 sq km project area to increase native forest cover. During this time forest policy and the grants system have changed significantly towards supporting native woodland expansion, with new planting and the restoration of existing sites. What was the historically low baseline from which this expansion has taken place and how does forest cover look today? Where would be the priority areas for new planting to support the development of forest habitat networks? Forestry Commission Scotland are currently undertaking a comprehensive survey - the Native Woodland Survey of Scotland - and we would aim to complement this work.
Dwarf Birch and preferred habitat.
How much is the current distribution of the montane species Dwarf Birch, (Betula nana) affected by historical land management practices? In particular, what is the optimum habitat for growth of the species in relation to peat depth, depth of water table and other environmental variables? The population at TfL’s Dundreggan estate, and on neighbouring land, provides a good opportunity to investigate optimum growth which would then inform future planting plans.
Dwarf Birch and associated invertebrates.
A number of rare invertebrate species have now been recorded in association with Dwarf Birch, (Betula nana) at TfL’s Dundreggan estate. These include the UK BAP moth Swammerdamia passerella and 3 sawfly species. There appears to be an association between the moth’s caterpillars, which are restricted to Dwarf Birch, and flowering. There may well be a wider correlation between the presence and abundance of invertebrates and the vigour of plant growth, the latter affected by deer browsing pressure and habitat. At Dundreggan there are several differing habitat types in which the shrub grows, with some areas protected by deer fencing, and these could be investigated for presence and abundance of associated species.
Forest Habitat Networks: Oak Woodland in Glen Moriston
There are extensive areas of oak/birch (NVC 11&17) woodland alongside Loch Ness with some good remnants in the glens to the west, usually on the south facing slopes. Much of the lower part of Glen Moriston is afforested with maturing plantations interspersed with birch woodland, including oak, or with isolated stands of oak. There is a need to survey these stands, map isolated trees, identify whether Q. petraea or robur, research their history, look out for associated species (e.g. what are the agents of dispersal here, how far up the glen are the red squirrels found?) and propose prescriptions for restoration. The aim is to identify opportunities for linkages to develop an oak habitat network in the Glen.
An Archaeological Investigation at Dundreggan, Glen Moriston
The recent find of a ceremonial bronze age arrowhead at TfL’s Dundreggan estate in Glen Moriston has highlighted the need for both field and desk based studies to illuminate the history of the glen. From recent times to the prehistoric past, the glen offers much to discover and describe ….. the oak bobbin mill, remains of old field systems, mediaeval deer estates, a motte designated as an ancient monument and potential iron age links to forts above Glen Affric. Uncovering the past would both help with our interpretation and our plans for the future.
Mick Drury, Trees for Life, The Park, Findhorn Bay, Forres IV36 3TZ, Scotland
Tel: 01309-691292 Fax: 01309-691155 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: www.treesforlife.org.uk
Last updated: Friday, 18-Jan-2013 17:59:09 CET