Aleksandra Kulawska

University of Birmingham


Temperate forest nitrogen availability, carbon uptake and future climate change


Dr Tom Pugh, Nick Kettridge, Sami Ullah and Rob MacKenzie

PhD Summary

Forests sequester significant amounts of carbon, effectively decreasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Many existing climate models assume that forests will continue to take up carbon in the future, with some models predicting that this uptake may even increase, under what is known as the ‘CO2 fertilisation effect’. This means that forests will continue to mitigate some of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions. However, whether forests continue or even increase their carbon uptake is dependent on nutrient availabilities in forest ecosystems. Previous evidence from FACE experiments suggests that nitrogen limitations could reduce carbon uptake in forests in the future. This is highly significant, as wide-scale reductions in carbon uptake by forests would have profound consequences for climate change mitigation. The aim of the PhD is to determine whether nitrogen availability may limit the future uptake of carbon in temperate forest ecosystems. This will be determined through field sampling and analysis at the FACE site. The results of this study will provide data necessary for improving the accuracy of climate models, and, hence, prediction of future impacts of climate change on forests. Moreover, the results of this study will also support planning for climate change adaptation management of temperate forests.

What inspires you

Coming from one of Europe’s last and best preserved old-growth forests, the Bialowieza forest, I have always been fascinated with forest ecosystems and their complexity. As a child I was able to witness both the natural and anthropogenic changes in the forest, which sparked my interest in ecosystem science, plant ecology and environmental ethics. Eventually, this prompted me to get involved in environmental projects and focus my study on environmental issues.

Previous activity

I firstly completed a BA in Philosophy from the University of Exeter, where I focused on environmental ethics and took part in various environmental charities and green projects. I then moved on to study an MSc in Environmental Protection and Management at the University of Edinburgh, where I studied forest ecology as my main area of interest. For my MSc dissertation, I researched the impact of drought episodes on the growth of Pinus sylvestris in the Bialowieza forest.

Why did you choose doctoral research?

I first started thinking about doing a PhD in high school, as I thoroughly enjoyed studying and researching. Writing my BA and MSc dissertations, as well as publishing some of my work, has confirmed these thoughts and prompted me to apply for doctoral research. I was very excited by the opportunity to conduct research on forests, which I’m fascinated with, and to be able to study one topic in depth over a long time.

Why did you choose CENTA?

I was drawn to the CENTA studentship primarily because of the opportunity to conduct research at the FACE (Free Air CO2 Enrichment) site, which is the only such experiment on mature temperate forest. Moreover, I was interested by the extra-curricular opportunities that CENTA offers, such as additional training and PhD residential.

Future plans

In the future, I would like to become a researcher in the field of climate change and forest science. I am convinced that this PhD will provide me with the field, modelling and writing skills necessary to achieve this.