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Dr Luke Mander

Profile summary

Professional biography

Dr Luke Mander. I am a Senior Lecturer in Earth Sciences in the School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences at The Open University (since 2015). I received a PhD in 2010 from University College Dublin for a thesis that investigated 200 million-year-old fossil plant remains in Jameson Land, East Greenland. My doctoral research was supervised by Jennifer McElwain and Wolfram Kürschner. I then spent two years as a postdoc in Surangi Punyasena's lab in the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, before returning to the UK for a six-month stay at Plymouth University as a Lecturer in Earth Sciences (Fixed Term). I rounded off my scientific training with a two-year EU Marie Curie fellowship in Tim Lenton's Earth System Science group at the University of Exeter.

Research interests

My current research activities are focused on plant palaeobiology and morphology. I am interested in quantifying the morphology of plants, classifying plants on the basis of their morphological characteristics, and investigating the biogeographical evolution of plant diversity. I work with both living plants and material from the plant fossil record, which represents a vast archive of morphological novelties and natural design solutions that have been produced over the course of evolutionary time. In this context, I am particularly interested in the evolution of tropical rainforests, which are among the most complex ecosytems on Earth. I have worked mostly with pollen grains, which are morphologically fascinating objects with an outstanding fossil record, but also work with the leaves of vascular plants. Recent papers have presented a combinatorial morphospace for angiosperm pollen, algorithmic methods to quantify self-organised vegetation patterns in dryland ecosystems, and investigated the link between morphology and pollination biology in a Neotropical rainforest.

Teaching interests

I currently teach on the following modules here at The Open University:
S309 Earth Processes
On this module I am responsible for the development of independent student projects, materials relating to evolution, and Earth science in society. 
S209 Earth Science
I am the Chair of this module. 

External collaborations

A considerable proportion of my work is collaborative, and I am fortunate to have worked with some outstanding  people in the past. Here is a list of my current collaborators, loosely organised by country, together with a couple of notes here and there:

Prof. Timothy M. Lenton (Earth System Science, University of Exeter, UK). Tim was my postdoc advisor when I was a Marie Curie fellow in his Earth System Science group at Exeter ( We are just writing up various strands of the research I undertook as part of my fellowship, which was entitled "Miocene Vegetation of the African Tropics". 

Prof. Richard J. Twitchett (Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum, UK)

Dr Barry Lomax (Plant Science, Nottingham University, UK)

Anne-Marie Culhane ( Together with Tim Lenton and Thomas Powell, I co-hosted the Anne-Marie in the Earth System Science group at the University of Exeter. Anne-Marie worked on a residency entitled "Exeter Enquires", which resulted in a collaborative project entitled "Earthwalking" – a two-day walk along the East Devon coast to explore the Earth as a living system through stories of the sea and land, time and change.

Prof. Wolfram M. Kürschner (University of Oslo, Norway)

Dr Surangi W. Punyasena (Plant Biology, University of Illinois, USA). I was a postdoc in Surangi's lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign ( I undertook research as part of her NSF grant "Biological Shape Spaces, Transforming Shape into Knowledge", which also included Washington Mio and Charless Fowlkes (see below).

Prof. Washington Mio (Mathematics, Florida State University, USA)

Dr Martin Bauer (Mathematics, Florida State University, USA)

Prof. Francisca E. Oboh–Ikuenobe (Geology and Geophysics, Missouri University of Science and Technology, USA)

Dr Carlos Jaramillo (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama)








Externally funded projects

CENTA2 Doctoral Training Partnership
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01 Oct 201930 Sep 2027NERC Natural Environment Research Council

The Central England NERC Training Alliance (CENTA), is a consortium of research intensive Universities (Open, Birmingham, Leicester, Loughborough, Warwick and Cranfield) and research institutes who together to provide excellence in doctoral research training. CENTA encompasses research activities within three broad themes: Climate and Environmental Sustainability; Organisms and Ecosystems; and Dynamic Earth. The Open University STEM Faculty has match-funded 3 studentships per year throughout the project.

CENTA 2016 intake
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01 Oct 201630 Sep 2020NERC Natural Environment Research Council

CENTA is a geographically and scientifically coherent consortium offering a wide range of excellent NERC science embedded in a vibrant multidisciplinary environment. The Universities (Birmingham, Leicester, Loughborough, Open and Warwick) and Institutes (British Geological Survey and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology) have a strong track record of producing PhD graduates fit for further research or other relevant employment. The Open University STEM Faculty has match-funded 3 studentships in the 2016 intake.


Phylogenetic and ecological correlates of pollen morphological diversity in a Neotropical rainforest (2020)
Mander, Luke; Parins‐Fukuchi, Caroline; Dick, Christopher W.; Punyasena, Surangi W. and Jaramillo, Carlos
Biotropica ((Early access))

Toarcian land vegetation loss (2019)
Mander, Luke and McElwain, Jennifer C.
Nature Geoscience, 12 (pp. 405-406)

Measuring Biodiversity and Extinction – Present and Past (2018-12)
Sigwart, Julia D.; Bennett, K. D.; Edie, Stewart M.; Mander, Luke; Okamura, Beth; Padian, Kevin; Wheeler, Quentin; Winston, Judith and Yeung, Norine
Integrative and Comparative Biology, 58(6) (pp. 1111-1117)

The Latitudinal Distribution of Morphological Diversity among Holocene Angiosperm Pollen Grains from eastern North America and the Neotropics (2018-08-02)
Mander, Luke
Integrative and Comparative Biology, 58(6) (pp. 1170-1178)

The influence of environmental forcing on biodiversity and extinction in a resource competition model (2018-03-01)
Vakulenko, Sergey A.; Sudakov, Ivan and Mander, Luke
Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science, 28(3) (pp. 031101-1-031101-7)

Comparative performance of airyscan and structured illumination superresolution microscopy in the study of the surface texture and 3D shape of pollen (2018-01-25)
Sivaguru, Mayandi; Urban, Michael A.; Fried, Glenn; Wesseln, Cassandra J.; Mander, Luke and Punyasena, Surangi W.
Microscopy Research and Technique, 81(2) (pp. 101-114)

A morphometric analysis of vegetation patterns in dryland ecosystems (2017-02)
Mander, Luke; Dekker, Stefan C.; Li, Mao; Mio, Washington; Punyasena, Surangi W. and Lenton, Timothy M.
Royal Society Open Science, 4, Article 160443

The geometry of large Arctic tundra lakes observed in historical maps and satellite images (2017)
Sudakov, I; Essa, A; Mander, Luke; Gong, M and Kariyawaam, T
Remote Sensing, 9, Article 1072

A combinatorial approach to angiosperm pollen morphology (2016-11-30)
Mander, Luke
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 283, Article 20162033(1843)

Grass pollen surface ornamentation: a review of morphotypes and taxonomic utility (2016-07)
Mander, Luke and Punyasena, Surangi W.
Journal of Micropalaeontology, 35(2) (pp. 121-124)

High potential for weathering and climate effects of non-vascular vegetation in the Late Ordovician (2016)
Porada, P.; Lenton, T. M.; Pohl, A.; Weber, B.; Mander, L.; Donnadieu, Y.; Beer, C.; Pöschl, U. and Kleidon, A.
Nature Communications, 7, Article 12113

Evidence for coal forest refugia in the seasonally dry Pennsylvanian tropical lowlands of the Illinois Basin, USA (2014-11-04)
Looy, Cindy V.; Stevenson, Robert A.; Van Hoof, Thomas B. and Mander, Luke
PeerJ, 2, Article e630

Identifying the pollen of an extinct spruce species in the Late Quaternary sediments of the Tunica Hills region, south-eastern United States (2014-10)
Mander, L.; Rodriguez, J.; Mueller, P. G.; Jackson, S. T. and Punyasena, S. W.
Journal of Quaternary Science, 29(7) (pp. 711-721)

On the taxonomic resolution of pollen and spore records of Earth’s vegetation (2014-10)
Mander, Luke and Punyasena, Surangi W.
International Journal of Plant Sciences, 175(8) (pp. 931-945)

Accuracy and consistency of grass pollen identification by human analysts using electron micrographs of surface ornamentation (2014-08)
Mander, Luke; Baker, Sarah J.; Belcher, Claire M.; Haselhorst, Derek S.; Rodriguez, Jacklyn; Thorn, Jessica L.; Tiwari, Shivangi; Urrego, Dunia H.; Wesseln, Cassandra J. and Punyasena, Surangi W.
Applications in Plant Sciences, 2, Article 1400031(8)

A gymnosperm affinity for Ricciisporites tuberculatus Lundblad: implications for vegetation and environmental reconstructions in the Late Triassic (2014-06)
Kürschner, Wolfram M.; Mander, Luke and McElwain, Jennifer C.
Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments, 94(2) (pp. 295-305)

Fossil pollen and spores in paleoecology (2018-10-28)
Mander, L. and Punyasena, S. W.
In: Croft, D. A.; Simpson, S. W. and Su, D. F. eds. Methods in Paleoecology: Reconstructing Cenozoic Terrestrial Environments & Ecological Communities. Vertebrate Paleobiology & Paleoanthropology (pp. 215-234)
ISBN : 978-3-319-94265-0 | Publisher : Springer

Milankovitch forcing of Early Jurassic wildfires (2019)
Hollaar, Teuntje Parnassia; Baker, Sarah Jane; Deconinck, Jean-Francois; Mander, Luke; Ruhl, Micha; Hesselbo, Stephen P and Belcher, Claire M
In : Third International Workshop on the Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event – Impact on marine organisms and ecosystems (2-5 Sep 2019, Erlangen, Germany)