Imperial College London

Professor Iain Colin Prentice

Faculty of Natural SciencesDepartment of Life Sciences (Silwood Park)

Chair in Biosphere and Climate Impacts



+44 (0)20 7594 2354c.prentice




1.1Centre for Population BiologySilwood Park





My research centres on understanding how plants react to and interact with changes in climate and other aspects of the physical environment. My strategy is to integrate process understanding in ecology and environmental physics with observations of all kinds, including atmospheric measurements and remote sensing, with a view to developing new theoretical and predictive frameworks. I engage in a variety of applications of this science including analysis of the impacts of contemporary climate change on ecosystems and ecosystem services, and of the various feedbacks between the biosphere and climate which have operated on long time scales and which are being activated today by global environmental change.

Recognizing that the development of so-called state-of-the-art models for large-scale processes in the terrestrial biosphere are foundering due to their ever-increasing complexity and lack of agreed theoretical foundations, my top research priority is now the development of a 'next generation' dynamic global vegetation model based on eco-evolutionary optimality principles. Optimality principles are the 'missing law' of biology for Earth System modelling. They have the potential to generate substantially simpler and more robust models that fully exploit the power of natural selection to eliminate suboptimal trait combinations, and the richness of relevant observational data that are now available to ecosystem scientists for the development and evaluation of theory and models.



  • Ph.D. in Botany, Cambridge University (1977)
  • B.A. in Natural Sciences, Cambridge University (1973)


  • High-End Foreign Expert, Tsinghua University, Beijing (2018-2020);
  • Honorary Professor in Ecology and Evolution, Macquarie University (2018-2023);
  • High-End Foreign Expert, Northwest Agriculture & Forestry University, Yangling (2015-2017);
  • AXA Professor of Biosphere and Climate Impacts, Imperial College London (2013-);
  • Professor, Concentration of Research Excellence in Ecology and Evolution, Macquarie University (2009-2016);
  • Professor of Biosphere-Climate Interactions, Imperial College London (2010-2013);
  • Professor of Earth System Science, University of Bristol, and NERC Research Programme Leader, Quantifying and Understanding the Earth System (2003-2010);
  • Founding Director, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena (1997-2003);
  • Professor of Plant Ecology, Lund University (1991-1998);
  • Assistant/Associate research professor, Ecological Botany, Uppsala University (1983-1991);
  • Visiting Scientist, Plant Ecology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands (1982-1983);
  • Research Fellow, Geography, University of Southampton (1980-1982);
  • Research Fellow, Plant Biology, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1978-1980);
  • Research Fellow, Botany, University of Bergen, Norway (1977-1978).




Research Group

Twitter: @labprentice


Postdoctoral researchers

  • Dr Keith Bloomfield
  • Dr Catherine Morfopoulos
  • Dr AliĆ©nor Lavergne
  • Dr Rodolfo Nobrega
  • Dr Ramesh Ningthoujam

PhD Students

  • Mr Xavier Gilbert
  • Mr Alexander Kuhn-Regnier (main supervisor: Dr Apostolos Voulgarakis)
  • Mr Dimitrios Kontopoulos (main supervisor: Dr Samraat Pawar)
  • Ms Anne Uilhoorn (University of Leiden; main supervisor Professor Peter Bodegom)
  • Ms Diana Askarizadeh (University of Tehran: main supervisor Professor Hossein Arzani)
  • Ms Alison Prior
  • Mr David Sandoval


    Selected Publications

    Journal Articles

    Terrer C, Vicca S, Stocker BD, et al., 2017, Ecosystem responses to elevated CO2 governed by plant-soil interactions and the cost of nitrogen acquisition., New Phytologist, Vol:217, ISSN:0028-646X, Pages:507-522

    Wang H, Prentice IC, Keenan TF, et al., 2017, Towards a universal model for carbon dioxide uptake by plants, Nature Plants, Vol:3, ISSN:2055-026X, Pages:734-741

    Wright IJ, Dong N, Maire V, et al., 2017, Global climatic drivers of leaf size, Science, Vol:357, ISSN:0036-8075, Pages:917-921

    Dong N, Prentice IC, Harrison SP, et al., 2017, Biophysical homoeostasis of leaf temperature: A neglected process for vegetation and land-surface modelling, Global Ecology and Biogeography, Vol:26, ISSN:1466-822X, Pages:998-1007

    Davis T, Prentice IC, Stocker BD, et al., 2017, Simple process-led algorithms for simulating habitats (SPLASH v.1.0): robust indices of radiation, evapotranspiration and plant-available moisture, Geoscientific Model Development, Vol:10, ISSN:1991-9603, Pages:689-708

    Dong N, Prentice IC, Evans BJ, et al., 2017, Leaf nitrogen from first principles: field evidence for adaptive variation with climate, Biogeosciences, Vol:14, ISSN:1726-4189, Pages:481-495

    Wang H, Prentice IC, Davis TW, et al., 2016, Photosynthetic responses to altitude: an explanation based on optimality principles, New Phytologist, Vol:213, ISSN:1469-8137, Pages:976-982

    Keenan TF, Prentice IC, Canadell JG, et al., 2016, Recent pause in the growth rate of atmospheric CO2 due to enhanced terrestrial carbon uptake., Nature Communications, Vol:7, ISSN:2041-1723, Pages:1-10

    Thomas RT, Prentice IC, Graven H, et al., 2016, Increased light-use efficiency in northern terrestrial ecosystems indicated by CO2 and greening observations, Geophysical Research Letters, Vol:43, ISSN:1944-8007, Pages:11339-11349

    De Kauwe MG, Keenan TF, Medlyn BE, et al., 2016, Satellite based estimates underestimate the effect of CO2 fertilization on net primary productivity, Nature Climate Change, Vol:6, ISSN:1758-678X, Pages:892-893

    Terrer C, Vicca S, Hungate BA, et al., 2016, Mycorrhizal association as a primary control of the CO2 fertilization effect, Science, Vol:353, ISSN:1095-9203, Pages:72-74

    Ukkola AM, Prentice IC, Keenan TF, et al., 2015, Reduced streamflow in water-stressed climates consistent with CO2 effects on vegetation, Nature Climate Change, Vol:6, ISSN:1758-6798, Pages:75-78

    Prentice IC, Liang X, Medlyn BE, et al., 2015, Reliable, robust and realistic: the three R's of next-generation land-surface modelling, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, Vol:15, ISSN:1680-7316, Pages:5987-6005

    Medlyn BE, Zaehle S, De Kauwe MG, et al., 2015, Using ecosystem experiments to improve vegetation models, Nature Climate Change, Vol:5, ISSN:1758-678X, Pages:528-534

    Calvo MM, Prentice IC, 2015, Effects of fire and CO2 on biogeography and primary production in glacial and modern climates, New Phytologist, Vol:208, ISSN:0028-646X, Pages:987-994

    Lin Y-S, Medlyn BE, Duursma RA, et al., 2015, Optimal stomatal behaviour around the world, Nature Climate Change, Vol:5, ISSN:1758-678X, Pages:459-464

    Meng T-T, Wang H, Harrison SP, et al., 2015, Responses of leaf traits to climatic gradients: adaptive variation versus compositional shifts, Biogeosciences, Vol:12, ISSN:1726-4170, Pages:5339-5352

    Li G, Harrison SP, Prentice IC, et al., 2014, Simulation of tree-ring widths with a model for primary production, carbon allocation, and growth, Biogeosciences, Vol:11, ISSN:1726-4170, Pages:6711-6724

    Bistinas I, Harrison SP, Prentice IC, et al., 2014, Causal relationships versus emergent patterns in the global controls of fire frequency, Biogeosciences, Vol:11, ISSN:1726-4170, Pages:5087-5101

    Dani KGS, Jamie IM, Prentice IC, et al., 2014, Evolution of isoprene emission capacity in plants, Trends in Plant Science, Vol:19, ISSN:1360-1385, Pages:439-446

    Morfopoulos C, Sperlich D, Penuelas J, et al., 2014, A model of plant isoprene emission based on available reducing power captures responses to atmospheric CO2, New Phytologist, Vol:203, ISSN:0028-646X, Pages:125-139

    Prentice IC, Dong N, Gleason SM, et al., 2013, Balancing the costs of carbon gain and water transport: testing a new theoretical framework for plant functional ecology, Ecology Letters, Vol:17, ISSN:1461-023X, Pages:82-91

    Morfopoulos C, Prentice IC, Keenan TF, et al., 2013, A unifying conceptual model for the environmental responses of isoprene emissions from plants, Annals of Botany, Vol:112, ISSN:0305-7364, Pages:1223-1238

    Stocker BD, Roth R, Joos F, et al., 2013, Multiple greenhouse-gas feedbacks from the land biosphere under future climate change scenarios, Nature Climate Change, Vol:3, ISSN:1758-678X, Pages:666-672

    Gallego-Sala AV, Prentice IC, 2013, Blanket peat biome endangered by climate change, Nature Climate Change, Vol:3, ISSN:1758-678X, Pages:152-155

    Bragg FJ, Prentice IC, Harrison SP, et al., 2013, Stable isotope and modelling evidence for CO2 as a driver of glacial-interglacial vegetation shifts in southern Africa, Biogeosciences, Vol:10, ISSN:1726-4170, Pages:2001-2010

    Kelley DI, Prentice IC, Harrison SP, et al., 2013, A comprehensive benchmarking system for evaluating global vegetation models, Biogeosciences, Vol:10, ISSN:1726-4170, Pages:3313-3340

    Harrison SP, Morfopoulos C, Dani KGS, et al., 2013, Volatile isoprenoid emissions from plastid to planet, New Phytologist, Vol:197, ISSN:0028-646X, Pages:49-57

    Daniau A-L, Bartlein PJ, Harrison SP, et al., 2012, Predictability of biomass burning in response to climate changes, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Vol:26, ISSN:0886-6236

    Xu-Ri, Prentice IC, Spahni R, et al., 2012, Modelling terrestrial nitrous oxide emissions and implications for climate feedback, New Phytologist, Vol:196, ISSN:0028-646X, Pages:472-488

    Prentice IC, Kelley DI, Foster PN, et al., 2011, Modeling fire and the terrestrial carbon balance, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Vol:25, ISSN:0886-6236

    Dawson TP, Jackson ST, House JI, et al., 2011, Beyond Predictions: Biodiversity Conservation in a Changing Climate, Science, Vol:332, ISSN:0036-8075, Pages:53-58

    Prentice IC, Harrison SP, Bartlein PJ, 2011, Global vegetation and terrestrial carbon cycle changes after the last ice age, New Phytologist, Vol:189, ISSN:0028-646X, Pages:988-998

    Prentice IC, Meng T, Wang H, et al., 2011, Evidence of a universal scaling relationship for leaf CO2 drawdown along an aridity gradient, New Phytologist, Vol:190, ISSN:0028-646X, Pages:169-180

    Murray SJ, Foster PN, Prentice IC, 2011, Evaluation of global continental hydrology as simulated by the Land-surface Processes and eXchanges Dynamic Global Vegetation Model, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, Vol:15, ISSN:1027-5606, Pages:91-105

    Prentice IC, Harrison SP, 2009, Ecosystem effects of CO2 concentration: evidence from past climates, Climate of the Past, Vol:5, ISSN:1814-9324, Pages:297-307

    Marlon JR, Bartlein PJ, Carcaillet C, et al., 2008, Climate and human influences on global biomass burning over the past two millennia, Nature Geoscience, Vol:1, ISSN:1752-0894, Pages:697-702

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