School of GeoSciences

School of GeoSciences

Casey Ryan

I am a senior lecturer in ecosystem services and global change at the University of Edinburgh, School of GeoSciences. Broadly, I'm interested in tropical land use change science and ecosystem ecology. My research is mainly focused on the miombo woodlands of Southern Africa, their ecology and the ecosystem services that they provide. My teaching is nearly all related to an MSc programme in Ecosystem Services.

I collaborate with several groups of academics in Edinburgh, including the Global Change Ecology and Tropical Ecosystem groups, and the Edinburgh Ecology Network.

My main research topics include:

  • Miombo woodland ecology, particularly the role of fire
  • Land use change in woodlands and savannahs, particularly in SE Asia and Africa
  • The carbon cycle of tropical savannas and dry forests
  • The leaf phenology of seasonally dry ecosystems
  • Tree allometry and biomass estimation
  • Reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD), with a particular emphasis on African woodlands and shifting cultivation

I use a mixture of methods and techniques in my research, from field based studies of trees and soil to data acquired from satellite. I use computer modeling and GIS techniques for much of my work.

Current research

I lead a team of researchers and students working in the tropical land use team. See the link on the left for more details about the team's current projects and activities.

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

I’m currently working on the following projects.

• 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) a newly funded nascent project 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 is led by IIED. See the ESPA page for more details.

The SHAMBA tool . The aim of the SHAMBA project is to develop a greenhouse gas accounting approach for Climate Smart Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa that is accessible to non-specialists and is applicable across a broad range of environmental conditions and land use interventions. It has been developed over several projects including a current one with CCAFS . Previously the work was carried out in collaboration with a team from the Sustainability and Climate Change department at PwC UK and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. The emphasis is on building knowledge and approaches that don't constrain the areas where projects can be carried out or the activities small-holders choose to implement, but instead allow low tech but accurate assessment of the mitigation impact of various types of conservation agriculture and agroforesty, even when background data are scarce. We are partnering with many local research institutions and project developers in Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia.

• A grant from IIED is funding us to support Mozambique's efforts to reduce forest loss. We are applying a novel methodology to quantify current deforestation and forest degradation in central Mozambique (Ryan et al, GCB, 2012), and also to understand the main pressures on forests. Although small-scale agriculture, charcoal production, and the use of wood for construction are thought to be important drivers of forest loss, policy makers are unsure of their relative importance, which hinders effective policy.

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. Nick Berry is working on this project as part of his post doc on tropical land use change.

• A project in Tanzania based around the The Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative. Dr Mat Williams, local collaborators and developed new methods for rapid carbon stock assessment, with the goal of fusing community-based ground measurements with satellite monitoring. Such methods should help small holders and rural communities to benefit from the rapidly developing carbon market. The work also includes the development of a VCS methodology (in review as of April 2014) to assess the impact of switching from a late-burning to an early-burning fire regime, including quantifying the impacts on woodland biomass.

Other Projects

• As part of the NERC Carbon Fusion project, I was funded to look at methods of estimating tree biomass from satellite, comparing optical and radar satellite imagery at various resolutions. The work produced estimates of biomass with known errors and uncertainties at a site in Mozambique, which is currently being written up for publication.

• The Elizabeth Sinclair Irvine fund supports the ongoing measurement of the permanent sample plots in Nhambita, Mozambique.

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

Some examples are listed below. Please feel free to email me to request a copy of these publications.

REDD and policy related

Ryan, C.M., Berry, N.J. & Joshi, N., 2014. Quantifying the causes of deforestation and degradation and creating transparent REDD+ baselines: A method and case study from central Mozambique. Applied Geography, 53, pp.45–54. [html]

Berry, N.J., Harley, R. & Ryan, C.M., 2013. Enabling communities to benefit from REDD+: pragmatic assessment of carbon benefits. Carbon Management, 4(6), pp.571–573. [html]

Berry, N. J. and C. M. Ryan (2013). "Overcoming the risk of inaction from emissions uncertainty in smallholder agriculture." Environmental Research Letters 8(1): 011003. [open access]

Ryan, C. M. (2009). Deforestation. POSTnote. London, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. [pdf]

Savanna ecosystem ecology

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

Woollen, E., Ryan, C.M. & Williams, M., 2012. Carbon Stocks in an African Woodland Landscape: Spatial Distributions and Scales of Variation. Ecosystems. In Press. [html]

Ryan, C. M., M. Williams and J Grace (2011). " Above and Below Ground Carbon Stocks in a Miombo Woodland Landscape of Mozambique" Biotropica,43(4): 423-432. [html] [pdf]

Ryan, C. M. and M. Williams (2011). "How does fire intensity and frequency affect miombo woodland tree populations and biomass? ." Ecological Applications, 21(1): 48-60. [html] [pdf]

Furley, P. A., R. M. Rees, C. M. Ryan and G. Saiz (2008). "Savanna burning and the assessment of long-term fire experiments with particular reference to Zimbabwe." Progress in Physical Geography 32(6): 611-634. [pdf]

Williams, M., C. M. Ryan, R. M. Rees, E. Sambane, J. Fernando and J. Grace (2008). "Carbon sequestration and biodiversity of re-growing miombo woodlands in Mozambique." Forest Ecology and Management 254(2): 145-155. [pdf]

Remote sensing

Ryan, C. M., T. Hill, E. Woollen, C. Ghee, E. Mitchard, G. Cassells, J. Grace, I. Woodhouse and M. Williams (2011). "Quantifying small-scale deforestation and forest degradation in miombo woodlands using high-resolution multi-temporal radar imagery." Global Change Biology. In press. [html] [pdf]

Ryan, C. M., M. Williams, T. C. Hill, J. Grace and I. H. Woodhouse (2013). "Assessing the Phenology of Southern Tropical Africa: A Comparison of Hemispherical Photography, Scatterometry, and Optical/NIR Remote Sensing." Geoscience and Remote Sensing, IEEE Transactions on PP(99): 1-10.

Hill, T. C., M. Williams, A. A. Bloom, E. T. A. Mitchard and C. M. Ryan (2013). "Are Inventory Based and Remotely Sensed Above-Ground Biomass Estimates Consistent?" PLoS ONE 8(9): e74170.

Mitchard, E. T. A., S. S. Saatchi, I. H. Woodhouse, G. Nangendo, N. S. Ribeiro, M. Williams, C. M. Ryan, S. L. Lewis, T. R. Feldpausch and P. Meir (2009). "Using satellite radar backscatter to predict above-ground woody biomass: A consistent relationship across four different African landscapes." Geophys. Res. Lett. 36. [pdf]

Other reports etc

Reports for the UK Department for International Development

Ryan, C.M. (2010). Utilising REDD to deliver rural livelihood development for poor people in woodland Africa. Report to DFID Africa Regional Department.

Ryan, C.M. (2010). Monitoring and Evaluation of REDD+ Activities. A DEW Point study for DFID.

Ryan, C.M. (2009). What are Africa’s interests in the design of REDD+? Internal DFID report.

Liss, P., P. Boyd, E. Cortijo, K. Denman, B. Huebert, T. Jickells, T. Johannessen, G. Komen, D. Kumar, P. Matrai, B. Miller, U. Platt, K. Richardson, P. Schlosser, M. Uematsu, I. Wainer, D. Wallace and C. M. Ryan (2003). The Surface Ocean Lower Atmosphere Study Science Plan and Implementation Strategy, IGBP Report No. 50. [html]