Robert Spicer

  • Emeritus Professor of Earth Sciences - School of Environmental, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK, and CAS Key Laboratory of Tropical Forest Ecology, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xishuangbanna 666303, China

Research interests

Trained as both a botanist and a geologist at Imperial College London, and following an academic career with the US Geological Survey, London and Oxford universities before joining the Open University, I study the evolution of ecosystems and climate in extreme environments, specifically the Arctic and Earth's 'Third Pole' perhaps better known as the Tibetan region and Himalaya, where climate change is, and has been in the past, most strongly expressed. I use plants as climate change 'canaries' in that they monitor, respond to, and influence climate change. For many years I have studied the evolution of Arctic ecosystems and climate in 'deep time' when the region was ice-free, forested and warmer than now, providing insights into what the future there might hold. 

My current project Understanding Monsoon and Biodiversity Relevant to Landscapes and Livelihoods in Asia (UMBRELLA) is a collaboration with Bristol University and several Chinese institutions seeks to establish the origins and influences on Asian biodiversity, and inform landscape management, using a combination of geological and ecological data combined with climate modelling. We have established that biodiversity in several of the great Asian biodiversity 'hotspots' is much older than previously thought and was assembled at least 40 million years ago. Moreover Tibet used to host a deep central "Shangri-La" valley as part of this biodiversity 'cradle', making the natural ecosystems in that region all the more precious. The work feeds into conservation and predicting likely changes as the Third Pole 'water tower' disappears and livelihoods across Asia are impacted by ever more erratic resource depletion.