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Ruth Mitchell

Staff picture: Ruth Mitchell
Ecological Sciences
Ecological Sciences
Plant Soil Ecologist
+44 (0)344 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Aberdeen AB15 8QH
Scotland UK


Ruth Mitchell leads the Biodiversity and Ecosystems Group within the Ecological Sciences Department at the Institute. She also leads the Biodiversity Topic for the Scottish Government Rural Affairs, Food and Environment Strategic Research Programme. She is a plant and soil ecologist with 20 years experience of working on a wide range of applied ecological research projects. Her research focuses on the impact of pressures on above and below ground biodiversity and habitat restoration. Recently she has specialized in assessing the wider environmental impacts of  tree diseases and she is currently leading the Treescapes project DiversiTree.

See more at Google Scholar, Research gate, ORCID.

Current research interests

Recently Ruth's work has focussed on the biodiversity and ecosystem services implications of tree diseases. She is currently leading a UKRI funded Treescapes project called DiversiTree. DiversiTree aims to increase the resilience of current and future woodlands to climate change and tree diseases by understanding the methods to, and the impacts of, diversifying tree species composition within our woods. The project is specifically focussing on Sitka spruce and Scots Pine forests.  A YouTube introduction to the project can be found here: What is DiversiTree? Dr Ruth Mitchell explains - YouTube.

DiversiTree builds on Ruth's previous work on the wider ecological implications of tree diseases. Ruth led the first assessment of the impacts of the tree disease ‘ash dieback’ on biodiversity. The work has been widely used by policy makers, including Defra's tree health resilience strategy, Natural England and NatureScot and practitioners. The full report on ash associated biodiversity can be found here. As part of the THABI project PuRpOsE Ruth and her team worked on the impacts of Acute Oak Decline on biodiversity, identifying 2300 species that use oak trees in the UK. A figure recently cited by the David Attenborough film Wild Isles.  For both ash and oak Ruth lead teams of reseachers who identified those species that are most closely associated with ash or oak and therefore are most at risk from a decline in these tree species.  In addition the team identified the ecological functioning of ash and oak trees and how these compared to other native trees in the UK. The results are used to produced a range of tools to aid woodland managers in conserving ash and oak associated biodiversity

Ruth's interest in the impact of tree diseases on biodiversity has lead to wider work on the impact of plant diseases in natural habitats (work with Scotlands Plant Health Centre). This resulted in a SEFARI casestudy on which habitats are at greatest risk from plant pests and pathogens

Within the Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme 2022-2027 Ruth is leading work on projected areas and contributing to work on  restoration of plantations in ancient woodlands, invasive species - particularly plant pests and pathogends and healthy soils.

 Ruth has a long standing interested in successional processes and her work on plant-soil interactions studies how changes in land-use (principally tree colonisation on moorland) affects the vegetation, soil chemistry, soil fauna and ecosystem functioning. She co-ordinates a large, long-term experiment studying the impact of tree colonisation on moorland biodiversity and ecosystem processes (MOORCO). Ruth's research on the impact of pressures on biodiversity has focussed on grazing, pollution and climate change. She has worked on over-grazing issues in both moorlands and Atlantic oakwoods and assessed the impact of nitrogen deposition on heather-dominated moorland and on epiphytic lichens and bryophytes in Atlantic oakwoods. Ruth has carried out research on the restoration of a range of habitats resulting in techniques for re-establishment of heathland (both soils and vegetation) following scrub invasion, the establishment of heather on over-grazed moorlands, the restoration of Atlantic Oakwoods and the recovery of epiphytic bryophytes following a reduction in nitrogen pollution.

As the past chair of the British Ecological Society’s Scottish Policy Groupand current member of NatureScot’s Scientific Advisory Committee,and Defra’s Trees and Woodlands Science Advisory Group, Ruth aims to make her work policy relevant with practical applications for stakeholders.


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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.