Tom Pearson

Degree: MRes Ecology and Environment

Research groupTom chose to study MRes Ecology and Environment at Sheffield because of the course’s project focus. As part of his project, Tom has just begun fieldwork in Rondônia, Brazil where he’s investigating the impact of skid roads on young tree diversity and mortality.

“I knew I wanted to focus on Ecology but wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do a PhD. Sheffield attracted me because the MRes Ecology and Environment course offered a chance to see what a PhD would be like and allow me to focus more on a project, rather than learning to try and pass exams. I chose Dr Dave Edwards as a supervisor as his research focuses on the effect of land use change on tropical communities, an area I feel strongly about.

“I really enjoy the flexibility of self-study as it allows me to make the most of the British weather! But, specifically in terms of the course I have really appreciated the stats course we did as it was well taught and vital to the analysis I’m doing for my final project. Most importantly though, I get to go to the Brazilian Amazon to collect my data on the MRes budget!

“My fieldwork is taking place in Rondônia, Brazil where we are contributing to a long-term analysis of the effect of logging on tree communities in partnership with a sustainable logging company. My specific project is investigating the impact of skid roads on young tree diversity and mortality, helping to gauge the sustainability of the operation and offer guidance on how to improve it. We’ve almost finished with just nine plots left to do. We're well into dry season now, so that means a lot of sweating.. and sweat bees, but there are fewer trees falling across the roads that we have to chop, and we’re no longer getting rained off!

"We’ve seen some amazing wildlife including Tapir, Tayra, Crab-eating Foxes, Cabybara, Agouti, Tarantulas, Tarantula Hawk Wasps, Bullet Ants, Rondon’s Marmosets (endemic to Rondonia), Tamarins, Squirrel Monkeys, Spider Monkeys and a whole lot of birds such as Macaws and Parakeets amongst others. There have been a few problems, especially with our city cars on the rough logging roads, but we plan on finishing a couple of days early and have a break in a local holiday resort. There's still plenty of data entry to complete and a lot of species ID’s to sort out, but I’m confident the results of my analysis will show skid roads have a large effect on plant community since it’s one of the most noticeable aspects of the plots so far. It’s been hard work, but an absolutely unforgettable experience.

“Next year, I think I want to stay in Sheffield for at least another year and try and get some seasonal ecology work. Afterwards, I am thinking of applying for PhDs abroad, specifically Canada or New Zealand, and continue researching the impacts of land use change, but probably from a more interdisciplinary angle.”