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 2482c.prentice




2.3Centre 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.

This is the basis for the REALM project I lead: Reinventing Ecosystem and Land-surface Models. This project is funded for five years by the European Research Council and aims to revolutionize the way numerical models are developed for the land biosphere and its interactions with the changing climate.

I am Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society which launched in 2019. It is a collaborative project with experts from Kings College London, The University of Reading and Royal Holloway University of London. This centre is the only research organization in the world devoted to fundamental research on the biophysical dynamics of wildfire and its human dimensions. 2021 also sees the start of a new project, lead by the University of Reading in which I am the Science Strategy Lead. The project: Land Ecosystem Models based On New Theory, obseRvations and ExperimEnts (LEMONTREE) will run for five years and plans to develop a next-generation model of the terrestrial biosphere and its interactions with the carbon cycle, water cycle and climate drawing on eco-evolutionary optimality theory as a basis for building ecosystem models.



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


  • Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society (2019-2026)
  • 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 (2013-2019);
  • 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 Aliénor Lavergne
  • Dr Rodolfo Nobrega
  • Dr Ramesh Ningthoujam
  • Dr Dong Ning
  • Dr David Orme
  • Dr Natalie Sanders

academic visitors

  • Dr Tan Shen
  • Dr Jaideep Joshi

PhD Students

  • Alison Prior
  • David Sandoval
  • Giulia Mengoli
  • Cai Wenjia
  • Hannah O’Sullivan
  • Olivia Haas


    • Elena Diez Pastor
    • Jianing Xu
    • Yudiandra Yuwono
    • Yanwei Lin
    • Boya Zhou

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Harrison S, Cramer W, Franklin O, et al., 2021, Eco-evolutionary optimality as a means to improve vegetation and land-surface models, New Phytologist, Vol:231, ISSN:0028-646X, Pages:2125-2141

Peng Y, Bloomfield K, Cernusak L, et al., 2021, Global climate and nutrient controls of photosynthetic capacity, Communications Biology, Vol:4, ISSN:2399-3642

Prentice IC, Cai W, 2020, Recent trends in gross primary production and their drivers: analysis and modelling at flux-site and global scales, Environmental Research Letters, Vol:15, ISSN:1748-9326

Collalti A, Ibrom A, Stockmarr A, et al., 2020, Forest production efficiency increases with growth temperature, Nature Communications, Vol:11, ISSN:2041-1723

Qiao S, Wang H, Harrison SP, et al., 2020, Extending a first-principles primary production model to predict wheat yields, Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, Vol:287, ISSN:0168-1923, Pages:1-16

Peng Y, Bloomfield K, Prentice IC, 2020, A theory of plant function helps to explain leaf-trait and productivity responses to elevation, New Phytologist, Vol:226, ISSN:0028-646X, Pages:1274-1284

Franklin O, Harrison S, Roderick D, et al., 2020, Organizing principles for vegetation dynamics, Nature Plants, Vol:6, ISSN:2055-026X, Pages:444-453

Dong N, Prentice IC, Wright IJ, et al., 2020, Components of leaf-trait variation along environmental gradients, New Phytologist, Vol:228, ISSN:0028-646X, Pages:82-94

Lavergne A, Voelker S, Csank A, et al., 2020, Historical changes in the stomatal limitation of photosynthesis: empirical support for an optimality principle, New Phytologist, Vol:225, ISSN:0028-646X, Pages:2484-2497

Harrison SP, Bartlein PJ, Brovkin V, et al., 2018, The biomass burning contribution to climate-carbon-cycle feedback, Earth System Dynamics, Vol:9, ISSN:2190-4979, Pages:663-677

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

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

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

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

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

Bragg FJ, Prentice IC, Harrison SP, et al., 2013, Stable isotope and modelling evidence for CO<sub>2</sub> 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

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 CO<sub>2</sub> 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 CO<sub>2</sub> 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

More Publications