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Sara Lil Middleton

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Plant Ecologist

I was always a curious child growing up, trying to understand the natural world around me through climbing trees, studying and collecting spiders and watching nature documentaries. My love for nature and the environment continued throughout my schooling and higher education. I studied science at A Level (Physics, Biology and Geography), which enabled me to get onto an undergraduate degree in Environmental Sciences at Oxford Brookes University. It was whilst on a summer break in Iceland doing volunteer conservation work that I discovered my love of plants. I became fascinated by the dense patches of invasive purple flowers called lupins which were changing the botanical landscape. I returned the following year to do my final year project on the lupin plants.

Since my interest in plants was sparked, I completed a masters by research at Imperial College London, which looked at invasive plants in the UK under climate change, and now I am doing a DPhil (PhD) in plant ecology at Oxford. My current research explores if we can, just by using plant traits (characteristics) as a checklist, determine which plants will be the winners and losers under an experimental drought treatment on a UK grassland community. To help answer this question, I collect data on the key demographic properties of my study species (e.g. flower stalk length, number of leaves), identity of neighbouring plants, and a range of physiological plant traits.

Alongside my academic work, I continue to engage in outreach and equality, diversity and inclusion work. This includes founding the Human Nature Stories Project and the Black British Biology Project, coordinating the documentary film Bananageddon, and cofounding the Oxford BIPOC STEM Network.

Friday 29th Jan 2021, 10.30am

The RainDrop Experiment

How can we predict the future of grassland ecosystems? What's it like to be an ecologist working in the field?

At the moment, we are unable to understand and predict how natural resources will change over time. To try and rectify this, ecologists are setting up field experiments which simulate possible future...

The RainDrop Experiment