Professor Sara Cousins

IAS Fellow at Ustinov College, Durham University (January – March 2017)

Sara Cousins is a Professor in Physical Geography at the Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University, Sweden. She is the head of the research unit in Biogeography and Geomatics. Professor Cousins’ research revolves around how species, communities and biodiversity respond with time to changing landscape patterns, habitat degradation and fragmentation. How species disperse in time and space and how habitats are connected in landscapes are key issues in her research.

Professor Cousins combines theories within plant community ecology and modern geographical methods using historical maps and present-day aerial photographs. The focus is primarily on plants in semi-natural grassland, deciduous forest and small remnant habitats in Sweden and in the UK but also elephant movement in miombo woodlands in Western Tanzania. She is an internationally renowned expert in time lags and extinction thresholds in plant conservation, and has published significant contributions on effects of land-use history, management, and fragmentation on plant species diversity in Sweden, Slovenia and Japan. Particularly her studies on species-richness in ordinary, commonplace agricultural landscapes have been recognized as important contributions in the discussions of biodiversity conservation.

After finishing her PhD in Geography she was an assistant professor in Plant Ecology for several years before moving back to Physical Geography at Stockholm University in 2008. Her research is financed by both applied and fundamental research funding in Sweden and Biodiversa (EU) in Europe. Professor Cousins is a member of the Advisory Council of the International Association for Vegetation Science (IAVS) and an Associate Editor of the Journal of Vegetation Science. She is active in several international networks, for example FLEUR and SmallFORESTS which focuses on fragmented forests in landscapes from France to Estonia and Norway.

Her ongoing research focusses on two historical plant species data sets and species sorting after habitat change. Another path is functional connectivity and how green infrastructure might contribute to seed dispersal in fragmented landscapes using a new conceptualisation of functional connectivity for plants. She is collaborating with scientists at NERC on the landscape changes of Dorset in southern UK and comparing it with Stockholm archipelago.

While in Durham Professor Cousins plans to explore and discuss the questions on how landscape change and spatial arrangement of habitats affect different organism groups, other than plants. The work undertaken in the Stockholm archipelago from 1906 and today will provide an excellent platform to discuss the effect of land use change at different scales with the researchers in Durham. She plans to work on a proposal to EU with the focus on the effect of landscape change and functional connectivity.