School of GeoSciences

School of GeoSciences

Casey Ryan

casey.ryan@ed.ac.uk | +44 (0)131 650 7722

I am a senior lecturer in ecosystem services and global change at the University of Edinburgh, School of GeoSciences.

Broadly, I'm interested in the socio-ecology of land use transitions, meaning the ways that land use change impacts livelihoods and ecosystems. I lead a new MSc on 'Managing Environmental Change' and teach mixed methods, ecosystem ecology and run the professional placements that allow students to spend time applying their new knowledge outside academia. My research mixes methods including remote sensing, ecological fieldwork and modelling, household surveys and interviews. I've applied these to understand a range of land use transitions with a focus on southern Africa and Scotland.

My main research topics include:

  • Deforestation and forest degradation, with a particular emphasis on new methods to quantify degradation and its drivers
  • Miombo woodland ecology, particularly the role of fire
  • Land use change in woodlands and savannahs, particularly in SE Asia and Africa
  • The socio-ecological outcomes of land use intensification
  • The regeneration of native woodlands in Scotland and the effect this has on ecosystem services
  • The carbon cycle of tropical savannas and dry forests
  • Tree allometry and biomass estimation

My research

I lead a team of researchers and students called the land systems research group. See the link on the left for more details about the group's current projects and activities.

You can see a (nearly) full list of projects on the Edinburgh Research Explorer here.

Key current or recent projects:

SEOSAW: a Socio-Ecological Observatory for Southern African Woodlands. A NERC funded project seeking to understand the response of southern African woodlands to global change. It will do this by creating a regularly re-measured, systematic plot network, with an online data-sharing platform to exchange existing plot data so that we can look for signs of widespread change.

ACES: Abrupt Changes in Ecosystem Services and Wellbeing in Mozambican Woodlands? A large ESPA funded project, looking at how livelihoods change as land is converted from woodland to agriculture in Mozambique. ACES has its own website here .

• Streamlining Monitoring for Smallholder and Community PES (SMS-PES) looking at how "best" to monitor the benefits of payments for ecosystem services projects. We will look at this from several angles including scientific accuracy, the values of the buyers of the service, and the social implications of different types of monitoring. This project was led by IIED. See the ESPA page for more details.

• A grant from IIED and the WWF Luc Hoffmannn institute supported us to apply a novel methodology to quantify current deforestation and forest degradation in southern Africa (Ryan et al, 2012; McNicol et al 2018, Nature Comm.)

iREDD+ (Impacts of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and Enhancing Carbon Stocks), an EU project looking at the impacts of reducing emissions from deforestation in SE Asia. We have focused our work on swidden agriculture and its intensification, as well as the conversion to rubber plantations, all in Northern Laos.

• A project in Tanzania collaborating with The Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative. We developed new methods for rapid carbon stock assessment, with the goal of fusing community-based ground measurements with satellite monitoring. The work also includes the development of a VCS methodology to assess the impact of switching from a late-burning to an early-burning fire regime, including quantifying the impacts on woodland biomass.

• I maintain long term sample plots looking at the dynamics of African woodlands and savannas. These are located in Mozambique and Tanzania, and are part of the SEOSAW project.

Other Work

I have also worked for UK Department for International Development, (DFID) providing consultancy and research services to their Africa department on issues relating to REDD.

In 2009 I worked at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology producing a briefing note on deforestation for MPs and Peers. I used to be the secretary of the Royal Society's Global Environmental Research Committee and part of their Frontiers of Science Programme. From 2002-2005 I worked as the international project officer of the SOLAS (Surface Ocean - Lower Atmosphere Study) at UEA. Before that I taught English in China and worked at a design agency.

Example Publications

For a full list of my publications, and Open Access to many of them, see the Edinburgh Research Explorer here

• McNicol IM, Ryan CM, Mitchard ETAA (2018) Carbon losses from deforestation and widespread degradation offset by extensive growth in African woodlands. Nature Communications, 9, 3045. [html] Open Access.

• Rasmussen LV, Coolsaet B, Martin A ... Ryan, CM. (2018) Social-ecological outcomes of agricultural intensification. Nature Sustainability, 1, 275–282. [html]

• Lehmann, C.E.R. et al., 2014. Savanna vegetation-fire-climate relationships differ among continents. Science, 343(6170), pp.548–52. [html]

• Ryan, CM et al (2012). Quantifying small-scale deforestation and forest degradation in miombo woodlands using high-resolution multi-temporal radar imagery. Global Change Biology. 18(1) 243. [html] [pdf]

Some papers by my students

• Tripathi HG, Mzumara TI, Martin RO, Parr CL, Phiri C, Ryan CM (2019) Dissimilar effects of human and elephant disturbance on woodland structure and functional bird diversity in the mopane woodlands of Zambia. Landscape Ecology, 1–15.

• Pritchard R, Grundy IM, van der Horst D, Ryan CM (2019) Environmental incomes sustained as provisioning ecosystem service availability declines along a woodland resource gradient in Zimbabwe. World Development, 122, 325–338.

• Wells GJ, Stuart N, Furley PA, Ryan CM (2018) Ecosystem service analysis in marginal agricultural lands: A case study in Belize. Ecosystem Services, 32, 70–77.

• Nieto-Quintano P, Mitchard ETA, Odende R, Batsa Mouwembe MA, Rayden T, Ryan CM (2018) The mesic savannas of the Bateke Plateau: carbon stocks and floristic composition. Biotropica.

• Pritchard R, Ryan CM, Grundy I, van der Horst D (2018) Household wealth and human appropriation of net primary productivity in rural Zimbabwe. Ecological Economics, 146, 115–124.

• Wells G, Fisher JA, Porras I, Staddon S, Ryan C (2017) Rethinking Monitoring in Smallholder Carbon Payments for Ecosystem Service Schemes: Devolve Monitoring, Understand Accuracy and Identify Co-benefits. Ecological Economics, 139, 115–127.

• Jones D, Ryan CM, Fisher J (2016) Charcoal as a diversification strategy: The flexible role of charcoal production in the livelihoods of smallholders in central Mozambique. Energy for Sustainable Development, 32, 14–21.

• McNicol IM, Ryan CM, Williams M (2015) How resilient are African woodlands to disturbance from shifting cultivation? Ecological Applications, 25, 2320–2336.