What is the Eden Rainforest Research Group?

Researchers from the Eden Project are working with the Universities of Exeter, Plymouth and West of England, Bristol, on diverse projects in the rainforest biome at the Bodelva site. Our aim is to encourage collaborations between institutions, building on past research to help answer questions on rainforest, soil and restoration ecology, as well as tropical crops.

'Globally soils are under pressure, through erosion and loss of carbon. The Eden Project has produced a wonderful ecosystem using materials that would previously have gone to landfill but are now components of a living soil. We can learn so much from their pioneering work and produce living, sustainable soils to guarantee food security while reducing our environmental footprint. It is really exciting to work with colleagues in Eden to try to build the perfect soil.'

Dr Mark Fitzsimons

Members of the Eden Rainforest Research Group

External researchers

  • Dr Dan Bebber, Senior Lecturer (ER) in Biosciences, University of Exeter 
  • Dr Farnon Ellwood, Associate Professor of Conservation Science, University of the West of England, Bristol
  • Dr Mark Fitzsimons, Associate Professor (Reader) in Organic Geochemistry, University of Plymouth 

Eden staff

  • Dr Mike Maunder, Director of Life Sciences
  • Dr Rachel Warmington, Plant Pathologist and Research Group Coordinator

Research themes

Our work is focused around seven research themes, which align our academic strengths with Eden’s mission to connect us with each other and the living world, and the grand scientific and environmental challenges of our time:

  • Resilience
  • Sustainability
  • Food security
  • Soil development
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Horticulture
  • Micro-organisms

Current research projects

Banana Genetic Resources at Eden Project – Dr David Studholme (University of Exeter) (email: D.J.Studholme@exeter.ac.uk)

Bananas and plantains (Musa species) are vital for food security in many tropical and subtropical countries and the most popular fruit in industrialized countries. Genome sequencing will be performed on 25 of the Musa accessions held in the collection to augment our understanding of genetic variation within the key species and among other diverse and previously uncharacterised species. 

The suppression of Panama Disease by intercropping with Allium tuberosum, and the effect on the soil microbiome – Dr Dan Bebber (University of Exeter) (email: D.Bebber@exeter.ac.uk)

Recent experiments indicate rotating or intercropping bananas with Allium tuberosum suppresses Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense (Fusarium Wilt), yet the wider effect on the soil microbiome is largely unknown. This project will investigate the use of A. tuberosum to control Panama disease, and the effect of root exudates on the rhizosphere microbiome.

How does the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem function change as rainforest is converted to oil palm plantation? – Josie Phillips, (University of West of England, Bristol; contact – Dr Farnon Ellwood, email: Farnon.Ellwood@uwe.ac.uk)

A PhD project to investigate the environmental impacts of oil palm expansion. The aim is to improve the understanding of rainforest conversion to oil palm and to develop new strategies to improve the sustainability of the industry. Much of this work focuses on the inhabitants of bird’s nest ferns (the tropical epiphyte, Asplenium nidus), and developing the bird’s nest fern into a general ecosystem model to answer complex ecological questions, such as the impact of habitat disturbance on decomposition and nutrient cycling.

FABSOIL (Fabricated Soil) – Dr Mark Fitzsimons (University of Plymouth) (email: M.Fitzsimons@plymouth.ac.uk)

Funded by Agri-tec Cornwall and the European Regional Development Fund.

A project creating soil and then studying its properties and functions. The aim is to make the material from recycled and waste materials, including composted green waste, clay, grit and bark, ensuring it’s stable and fertile, whilst maintaining a reservoir of slow-release nutrients to fuel plant growth, without the high demand for fertiliser application. Artificial soils have many potential uses, from landscaping and urban restoration to landfill and high-value crop production. It brings the possibility of custom-made soils, of varying characteristics, being designed to order for various purposes across a range of locations and markets. Artificial soil has the added benefit of being free of pests and pathogens and would potentially require relatively little maintenance. 

Selected publications

Treseder, K., Pytel, M., Mappley, M., Griffiths, A. and Pettitt, T., 2011. Evolution of pest management strategies in the Rain-forest Biome at the Eden Project, the first 10 years. Outlooks on Pest Management, 22(1), pp.22-31.

Donald, J., Maxfield, P.J., Murray, D. and Ellwood, M.D., 2016. How tropical epiphytes at the Eden Project contribute to rainforest canopy science. Sibbaldia, 14, pp.55-68.

Schofield, H.K., Pettitt, T.R., Tappin, A.D., Rollinson, G.K. and Fitzsimons, M.F., 2018. Does carbon limitation reduce nitrogen retention in soil? Environmental Chemistry Letters, 16(2), pp.623-630.

Donald, J., Weir, I., Bonnett, S., Maxfield, P. and Ellwood, M.F., 2018. The relative importance of invertebrate and microbial decomposition in a rainforest restoration project. Restoration Ecology, 26(2), pp.220-226.

Submit a research proposal

If you are interested in conducting a specific research project in the Rainforest Biome at Eden Project please contact the research group coordinator, Dr Rachel Warmington, via the research proposal form. For an informal discussion please call 01726 818731, or email rwarmington@edenproject.com.

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