Professor David J Beerling

Prof David Beerling

Tel: +44 (0)114 222 4359
Fax: +44 (0)114 222 0002

email :


2009–2014 Royal Society-Wolfson Research Merit Award holder
2002– Appointed to a Personal Chair, University of Sheffield
2008–2009 Edward P. Bass Distinguished Visiting Environmental Scholar (Yale University)
2001–2003 Philip Leverhulme Prize holder
1994–2002 Royal Society University Research Fellow, University of Sheffield
1990–1993 Post-doctoral research associate. (×2, NERC, EU)
1990 PhD (botany), University of Wales, College of Cardiff
1987 Honours Botany, University of Wales, College of Cardiff

Key Research Interests

image of research

My interdisciplinary research group focuses on fundamental questions concerning how photosynthetic terrestrial ecosystems and the global environment co-evolved over the last half billion years. Our approach integrates evidence from fossils, experiments with terrestrial organisms, and rigorous theoretical models applied across spatial scales. We focus particularly on key processes and interactions important for revealing insights into the conquest of the land by plants, and the role of terrestrial ecosystems in shaping global ecology, climate and atmospheric composition. Our research findings also inform understanding of current anthropogenic climate change issues facing humanity.

Selected Professional Activities (since 2008)

2013– Royal Society Newton International Fellowship Board (Biological Sciences).
2012 Advisory Group, Society of Experimental Biology.
2011– Series Consultant, BBC Television (How to Grow a Planet).
2011 Origins of C4 grasslands Working Group, National Evolutionary Synthesis Centre (Durham, NC).
2011 Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences Working Group: Climate sensitivity.
2010 Organiser, Royal Society-Kavli Centre International Seminars Meeting. Atmospheric CO2 and the evolution of photosynthetic eukaryotes: enzymes to ecosystems.
2010 Co-organizer, 25th New Phytologist Symposium and Colston Research Society Symposium, Bristol. Colonization of the terrestrial environment,
2009– Board of Advisors, Annals of Botany Plants (Oxford University Press).
2008–2010 ARC-NZ Network for Vegetation Function, Working Group 50, Stomata and Climate Change.
2010 NASA/GISS Working Group, NYC. Climate sensitivity in the Anthropocene.
2009 EU FP7 Working Group, Montpellier. EU Ecotron facilities,
2008 National Research Council, Irvine CA. Working Group. Deep-time geologic records and future climate change.
2008 Arizona State University/NSF Working Group. Development of a large-scale national laboratory facility.
2007 Co-organizer, Royal Society Discussion Meeting, Trace gas biogeochemistry and global change, London.

Selected Recent Invited Lectures (since 2007)

2013. HOLDEN BOTANY LECTURE. University of Nottingham.
2013. PLENARY. 16th International Congress of Photosynthesis, St Louis, Missouri.
2012. KEYNOTE. Society for Experimental Biology, Salzburg, Austria.
2012. THE ROTHAMSTED LECTURE, Rothamsted Research, Harpenden.
2011. PLENARY. 4th Annual Journée d'Ecologie Toulousaine Symposium, INRA, Toulouse.
2011. KEYNOTE. Centenary Symposium, British Ecological Society (Journal of Ecology).
2011. PLENARY. Darwin Centre for Biogeosciences, Netherlands.
2011. PLENARY. South African Association of Botanists Annual Conference, Rhodes University.
2010. PLENARY. 25th New Phytologist Symposium, Bristol.
2009. KEYNOTE. Botanical Society of America, Snowbird, Utah.
2009. JOHN H. OSTROM LECTURE, Peabody Museum, Yale University.
2009. PLENARY. Irish Plant Scientists’ Association meeting, Trinity College, Dublin.
2008. INVITED PUBLIC LECTURE, The Woodland Trust. Hay Festival of Literature, Hay-on-Wye.
2008. EIGHT ANNUAL VENN LECTURE, Mathematics Institute, University of Hull.
2008. INVITED PUBLIC LECTURE. 10th International Science Festival, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh.
2008. PLENARY. Frontiers in Science Symposium, University of Tskuba, Tokyo, Japan.
2008. COSMO-CAIXA LECTURER, La Caixa Foundation, Science Museum, Barcelona, Spain.
2008. EDWARD P. BASS LECTURE, Yale Institute of Biospheric Studies, University of Yale.
2007. INVITED PUBLIC LECTURE, Hay Festival of Literature, Hay-on-Wye.

Current Research Group

Graduate Students

Bobby Caine (NERC, 2012-2015). Evo-Devo of stomatal development
(with Professor Fleming and Professor Gray)

Rachel Thorley (EPSRC, 2012-2015). CO2-fertilized terrestrial carbonate weathering and ocean acidification
(with Professor Leake and Professor Banwart)

Nichola Austen (EPSRC, 2012-2015). Fuel and Energy Production in the 21st Century: what are the consequences for aerosol-climate feedbacks?
(with Professor Quegan)

David Carpenter (NERC, 2012-2015) Charcoal, fire and atmospheric oxygen over the Phanerozoic
National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton
(with Professor J. Marshall (Southampton) and Professor Wellman)

Alex Williams (NERC, 2013-2016) Pleistocene and future CO2 effects on plant immunity
(with Dr J. Ton)

Christina Paparokidou (ERC, 2014-2018) The genomics of mineral weathering by tree-fuelled ectomycorrhizal fungi
(with Professor J. Scholes, Dr S. Rolfe and Professor J.R. Leake)

Post-Doctoral Research Associates

Dr Loredana Saccone (Leverhulme, 2014-2016)
Ecosystem CO2 starvation and Earth's minimum CO2 concentration
(with Professor J.R. Leake and Professor S.A. Banwart)

Dr Chandra Bellasio (ERC, 2014-2018)
Carbon dioxide starvation, drought, tree mortality and mineral weathering
(with Dr C.P. Osborne and Professor J.R. Leake)

Dr Anya Crocker (ERC, 2014-2016)
Cenozoic African C4 grassland expansion, terrestrial weathering and fire
National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton
(with Professor P.A. Wilson, Dr C.P. Osborne and Dr C. Belcher)

field-katie.jpgDr Katie Field (NERC, 2012-2015)
Origin and co-evolution of land plant-fungal symbioses during the “greening of the Earth”
(with Professor Leake, Dr Cameron, Dr Bidartondo (Kew), Professor Duckett and Dr Pressel (both Natural History Museum, London))

quirk-joe.jpgDr Joe Quirk (ERC, 2014-2016)
Carbon dioxide regulation of biological silicate weathering: from metabolomics-to microorganisms
(with Professor J.R. Leake and Professor S.A.Banwart)

Dr Jennifer Morris (NERC, 2012-2015)
Evolutionary rise of forests, fungi and feedbacks on the long-term carbon cycle
(with Professor Leake, Professor Wellman, Dr Berry (Cardiff) and Dr Marshall (Southampton))

taylor-lyla.jpgDr Lyla Taylor (NERC, 2012-2015)
Methane and Palaeogene greenhouse climates
(with Professor Pancost (Bristol), Dr Singarayer (Bristol) and Professor Collinson (Royal Holloway, London)).

Technical Support


Dr Kate Allinson (NERC). email:

Image of David Johnson

Dr David Johnson (NERC). Email:

Undergraduate Teaching

My research interests are generally reflected in my undergraduate graduate teaching through the following level 3 and level 4 modules.

1. Co-ordinator and lecturer on Level 3 Module APS313 Global Change
Please link to

2. Co-ordinator and lecturer on Level 4 Module APS407 Research skills
Please link to

In addition, I contribute to a level two module World Ecosystems (APS 223), which explores the functioning and diversity of the world's ecosystems. Level three and four undergraduate research projects in my lab also have investigated plants responses to past, present and future atmospheric CO2 concentrations and CO2 effects on functional aspects of early land plant partnerships with mycorrhizal fungi.

Selected Recent Publications


Beerling, D.J. (2007) The Emerald Planet. How plants changed Earth´s history. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Beerling, D.J. & Woodward, F.I. (2001) Vegetation and the terrestrial carbon cycle. Modelling the first 400 million years. Cambridge University Press.

image of The Emerald Planet

Praise for The Emerald Planet:

`My favourite non-fiction book this year´
Oliver Sacks, Book of the year, The Observer

`A gorgeous book about plants´
Steven Poole, The Guardian

Paul Falkowski, Nature

2012 BBC Two Television series, How to Grow a Planet.

How to grow a planet imageThe Emerald Planet presented a closely argued case for recognizing the role of plants in shaping Earth’s history and formed the basis of a major three-part BBC Two television series, How to Grow a Planet, presented by Iain Stewart.

Professor Beerling acted as the Scientific Consultant.

The series considerably enhanced public awareness of this emerging scientific theme, attracting average viewing figures of 1.7 million.

Recent Edited Volumes

Beerling, D.J. (editor) (2012) Atmospheric CO2 and the evolution of photosynthetic eukaryotes: from enzymes to ecosystems [thematic issue]. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, B367, 477-629.

Beerling, D.J. (editor) (2009) Coevolution of photosynthetic organisms and the environment [special Issue]. Geobiology, 7, 97-264.

Beerling, D.J., Hewitt, C.N., Pyle, J.A. & Raven, J.A. (editors) (2007) Trace gas biogeochemistry and global change [discussion meeting]. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, A365, 1627-1954.

Selected Recent Scientific Papers (since 2008)

Warszawski, L. et al. (2013) A multi-model analysis of ecosystem shifts under climate change. Environmental Research Letters, 8, 044018.
[Commentary on Warszawski et al. (2013): Environmental Research Letters, 8, 041004, 2013]

Chater, C., Gray, J.E. & Beerling, D.J. (2013) Early evolutionary acquisition of stomatal control and development gene signalling networks. Current Opinion in Plant Biology, 16, 638-646.

Quirk, J., McDowell, N.G., Leake, J.R., Hudson, P.J. & Beerling, D.J. (2013) Increased susceptibility to drought-induced mortality in Sequoia sempervirens (Cupressaceae) trees under Cenozoic atmospheric carbon dioxide starvation. American Journal of Botany, 100, 582-591.

Hansen, J. et al. (2013) Assessing "dangerous climate change": required reduction of carbon emissions to protect young people, future generations and nature. PLoS ONE, 8, e81648.
[Commentary on Hansen et al. (2013): The Guardian, Dec. 3, 2013; Scientific American, Dec. 4, 2013]

Previdi, M. et al. (2013) Climate sensitivity in the Anthropocene. Quartely Journal of the Royal Metorological Society, 139, 1121-1131.
[Commentary on Previdi et al. (2013): The Guardian, Sept. 18, 2013]

Palaeosense Project Members (2012) Making sense of palaeoclimate sensitivity. Nature, 491, 683-691.

Quirk, J., Beerling, D.J., Banwart, S.A., Kakonyi, G., Romero-Gonzalez, M.E. & Leake, J.R. (2012) Evolution of trees and mycorrhizal fungi intensifies silicate mineral weathering. Biology Letters, 8, 1006-1011.

DeConto, R.M., Galeotti, S. Pagani, M., Tracy, D., Schaefer, K., Zhang, T., Pollard, D. & Beerling, D.J. (2012) Past extreme warming events linked to massive carbon release from thawing permafrost. Nature, 484, 87-91.

Field, K.J., Cameron, D.C., Leake, J.R., Tille, S., Bidartondo, M. & Beerling, D.J. (2012) Contrasting arbuscular mycorrhizal efficiency responses of vascular and non-vascular land plants to a simulated Palaeozoic CO2 decline. Nature Communications, 3, 835, 10.1038/ncomms1831.

Chater, C., Kamisugi, Y., Movahedi, M., Fleming, A., Cuming, A.C., Gray, J.E. & Beerling, D.J. (2011) Regulatory mechanism controlling stomatal behaviour conserved across 400 million years of land plant evolution. Current Biology, 21, 1025-1029
[Commentary on Chater et al. (2011): Current Biology, 21, R540-R542, 2011].

Franks, P.J., Leitch, I.J., Ruszala, E.M., Hetherington, A.M. & Beerling, D.J. (2012) Physiological framework for adaptation of stomata to CO2 from glacial to future concentrations. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, B367, 537-546.

Beerling, D.J., Fox, A., Stevenson, D.S. & Valdes, P.J. (2011) Enhanced chemistry-climate feedbacks during past greenhouse climates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA, 108, 9770-9775.

Boardman, C.P., Gauci, V., Watson, J.S., Blake, S. & Beerling, D.J. (2011) Contrasting wetland CH4 emission responses to simulated glacial atmospheric CO2 in temperate bogs and fens. New Phytologist, 192, 898-911.
[Commentary on Boardman et al. (2011): New Phytologist, 192, 798-792, 2011]

Singarayer, J.S., Valdes, P.J., Friedlingstein, P., Nelson, S. & Beerling, D.J. (2011) Late-Holocene methane rise caused by orbitally controlled increase in tropical sources. Nature, 470, 82-85.
[Commentary on Singarayer et al. (2011): Nature, 470, 49-50, 2011]

Beerling, D.J. & Royer, D.L. (2011) Convergent Cenozoic CO2 history. Nature Geoscience, 4, 418-420.

Humphreys, C.P., Franks, P.J., Rees, M., Bidartondo, M.I., Leake, J.R. & Beerling, D.J. (2010) Mutualistic mycorrhiza-like symbiosis in the most ancient group of land plants. Nature Communications, 1, 103 doi:10.1033/ncomms1105.

Berry, J.A., Beerling, D.J. & Franks, P.J. (2010) Stomata: key players in the Earth system, past and present. Current Opinion in Plant Biology, 13, 233-240.

Beerling, D.J. & Franks, P.J. (2010) The hidden cost of transpiration [Invited News & Views]. Nature, 464, 495-496.

Pagani, M., Caldeira, K., Berner, R.A., & Beerling, D.J. (2009) The role of terrestrial vegetation in limiting atmospheric CO2 decline over the past 24 million years. Nature, 460, 85-88.
[Commentary on Pagani et al. (2009): Nature, 460, 40-41, 2009]

Franks, P.J. & Beerling, D.J. (2009) Maximum leaf conductance driven by atmospheric CO2 effects on stomatal size and density over geologic time. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA, 106, 10343-10347.

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