The Team

Toby Pennington

Toby is a Professor of Tropical Plant Diversity and Biogeography at the University of Exeter with a joint position at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and an Honorary Professorship at University of Edinburgh. His research focuses biodiversity, biogeography and ecology of threatened tropical forests and savannas. Much of his work has clear implications for conservation and livelihoods, and this continues in new projects with focus on agroforestry and ecosystem restoration.

Kyle Dexter

Kyle is a tropical biologist who has been studying the ecology and evolution of trees in diverse tropical biomes for nearly 2 decades. The genus Inga is close to his heart, as his PhD focused on the ecology and population genetics of species in the genus in Amazonian Peru. He has also worked on the genus in Brazil, Bolivia and French Guiana. Beyond his continuing work on Inga, Kyle and his research group are active in many areas, from montane forests to savannas, in both South America and Africa. Nearly all of the research is dedicated to understanding the biogeography, evolutionary history and ecosystem function of tropical trees, forests and savannas.

Catherine Kidner

Catherine is a Reader in Plant Evolution, based at both the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences, University of Edinburgh. She studies functional genetics and genomics in tropical plant species.  Her group uses large scale comparative sequence analysis to understand patterns of diversity. They are particularly interested in linking genetic variation to functional variation and understanding how plants adapt to changing environments.

Rosalía Piñeiro

Rosalía is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Exeter. She is an expert on tree genomics, with special focus on tropical regions. She uses modern genetic techniques to investigate the response of rainforest to past climatic changes, as well as to discover new species in complex plant groups such as Inga.

Andrezza Alves Spexoto Olival

The current coordinator of IOV’s agroecological network, Andrezza has an M.A. in veterinary medicine (Universidade de São Paulo) and postgraduate specialization courses on Land Reform (Universidade Federal de Lavras) and Production Cooperativism (Universidade Federal de Viçosa). Since 2004, she has worked in Alta Floresta helping design and put in place the IOV’s highly decentralized and participatory structure in close partnership with social movements and peasant organizations. She has also helped put together successfully grants proposals (including one for the prestigious Fundo Amazônia/BNDES) and authored articles on community organization, political participation and the construction of the territory.

Alexandre de Azevedo Olival

 A professor at Universidade do Estado de Mato Grosso (Alta Floresta), Alexandre has a Ph.D. in veterinary medicine. Over the past thirteen years he has worked in Alta Floresta drawing on his veterinary background to address the larger problems of rural development and the conditions under which peasant agriculture may thrive. He was the IOV’s executive director from 2001 to 2006 and has since remained affiliated with the Institute working on agro-ecological strategies, social organisation, and sustainable rural development practices. He has published on a range of topics including agro-ecological practices, resilience, animal health, and territorial development.

Saulo Souza

Saulo is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Exeter, based at Instituto Ouro Verde in Alta Floresta, Mato Grosso, Brazil. He is interested in applied research addressing biodiversity conservation and management and its relations with rural communities. His current research and activities focus on agroforestry and forest restoration linked to resilience of socio-ecological systems in the southern Amazonia forest frontier.

Tamsin Thomas

Tamsin is responsible for coordinating the Global Research Translation Award. She takes care of the financial and administrative side of the award, ensuring funding reporting and monitoring deadlines are met and all financial evidence is collected and recorded correctly. On completion of a First Class, BSc Hons Environmental Science Degree with the Open University in 2018, Tamsin swapped her career in arts management for scientific research. She is an experienced project and financial manager who delights in learning about the natural world.

Sarah Tupper

Sarah is a research development manager responsible for supporting University of Exeter's Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) portfolio. Sarah provides high-level research support (identifying funding opportunities, coordinating bid development and supporting live projects) for interdisciplinary and multi-partner institutional bids and provides secretariat support for the GCRF strategy group.

Tom James

Tom leads the University's International Development and Environment innovation portfolio. Tom is an environmental social scientist by training and works for the University as a Research Fellow on interdisciplinary research projects with important implications for international development and environment policy makers and practitioners.


We have partnered with Institudo Ouro Verde (IOV), based in Brazil. IOV has a strong focus on social participation, encouraging communities to participate in sustainable development. They work hard to build strong relationships, encourage new patterns of behaviour so people can participate in the debate and construction of new societies. Find out more here:


We also have partners from other institutions.