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Jennifer Brown

Staff picture: Jennifer Brown
Ecological Sciences
Ecological Sciences
Research Assistant
+44 (0)1382 568791

The James Hutton Institute
Dundee DD2 5DA
Scotland UK


Jennifer joined the institute in October 2013. With a background combining a BSc in Agricultural Sciences, an MSc in Environmental Management and a PhD in geoarchaeology, her research has been interdisciplinary with an emphasis in the use of soil science techniques. She currently holds collaborations with the University of Stirling, where she is an Honorary Research Fellow, and the University of Glasgow, where she holds an affiliate position.

Current research interests

  • Modelling of water and heat transport in soils.
  • Soil resilience.
  • Soil/roots interactions and root biomechanics.

Past research

Research project: The effects of the natural and cultural heritage on people’s health and wellbeing

This project ran in collaboration with the Institute of Health and Wellbeing, the Adam Smith Business School of the University of Glasgow and the National Trust for Scotland. It echoed international research seeking alternative measures to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to assess how well a nation is performing overall. The research looked at various domains of wellbeing, in particular leisure activities. Using the large scale survey dataset Understanding Society, I assessed the association of various leisure activities, including visits to heritage sites, to life satisfaction. Results suggested that people who visit heritage sites are more satisfied with life than people who do not visit these sites even when age, gender, income and employment status are controlled for. The satisfaction associated with visiting heritage sites is comparable to that of carrying out sports.

Research project: Shieling areas, historical grazing pressures and landscape responses in northern Iceland

Shielings were areas where milking livestock were taken to pasture for the summer, in order and save lower-lying areas for winter grazing and hay production. This project assessed the extent to which historical shieling-based grazing pressures contributed to land degradation. In this project I used GIS and pollen data to reconstruct historical vegetation cover of shieling areas. This information together with historical climatic and livestock records was inputted into a grazing simulation model to assess grazing pressures. Tephrochronology-based soil accumulation rates allied to micromorphology were used as a proxy for land degradation. The results showed that the shieling system contributed to the maintenance of upland vegetation cover and related productivity levels without causing land degradation from settlement through to ca. AD 1300. As land degradation accelerated from ca. AD 1477 it is likely that shieling management continued to operate effectively contributing to the overall resilience of livestock farming.

PhD Thesis Human responses, resilience and vulnerability: an interdisciplinary approach to understanding past farm success and failure in Mývatnssveit, northern Iceland

This research presented a new perspective on the study of past farm success and failure. It built on the concepts of resilience and vulnerability to construct a theoretical framework integrating environmental, historical and ethnographical data. The results showed that successful farms had a higher capacity of response than failed farms due, in part, to the greater availability and quality of natural resources, but mainly to the management of those resources. An analysis of present day perceptions of historical farm abandonment in the area corresponded with the conclusions reached through the data integration in placing the human factor above the environmental one in determining farm success and failure.

During this time I also participated in the archaeological excavation of “Skutustaðir midden” in Mývatn, Northeast Iceland and the Kids Archaeology School educational programme.

Barbuda historical-ecology project

During my PhD I developed networks with various international institutions including the City University of New York (CUNY), the Antigua and Barbuda National Parks and the Barbuda Council. As a result of these networks I became involved in this research project which ran parallel to my PhD. It was run by CUNY and consisted in the rescue excavation of a pre-Columbian archaeological site in Barbuda, eastern Caribbean. As part of the project, I carried out the soil and sediments characterisation of two pre-historic sites: Seaview and Indian Town Trail. I was also involved in education and outreach activities which included the establishment of a temporary museum for school groups and residents of the island, and the guiding of school visits to the sites.

Research project: Landscapes circum-Landnám

This Leverhulme Trust-funded project aimed at assessing how adaptive management strategies contributed to the relative success of Norse settlements in the Faroe Islands. The expansion of Norse settlers into the north-Atlantic and the introduction of domestic livestock, and rangeland grazing during the eighth and ninth centuries has generally been regarded as a major pressure on a sensitive landscape, leading to rapid and widespread vegetation change and land degradation. However, while many other Norse settlements ended up in land abandonment and widespread severe erosion (for example, Greenland and areas of Iceland) the settlements in the Faroe Islands relatively prospered.

In this project I carried out vegetation surveys which I used in combination with pollen data to reconstruct historical landscapes in the Faroe Islands. A grazing simulation model was then used to assess historically-based alternative management scenarios. The results suggested that although vegetable biomass declined with the onset of grazing activity, this was not to a level that would cause major changes in vegetation cover or contribute to soil erosion even under climatically determined poor growth conditions. The evolution of the grazing management system into partitioned areas termed hagi and partir was a likely contributor to long-term differentiation of landscapes and the relative success of settlements across Faroe beyond the Norse period.


  • McKenzie, B.M.; Stobart, R.; Brown, J.L.; George, T.S.; Morris, N.; Newton, A.C.; Valentine, T.A.; Hallett, P.D. (2017) Platforms to test and demonstrate sustainable soil management: integration of major UK field experiments., AHDB Final Report RD-2012-3786, 178pp.

  • Holland, J.; McKenzie, B.M.; White, P.; Brown, J.L.; Binnie, K.; Lange, C. (2019) Potato agronomy: How important is it?, Potato Away Day, Dunkeld, 31 January - 1 February 2019.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.