Karen L. Bacon

Dr Karen Bacon’s research spans palaeobotany to modern day plant ecology and conservation and incorporates elements of plant biology, geology and chemistry.   

Particular interests include: plant–environment interactions; proxy development to investigate plant responses to environmental and atmospheric change both today and in the fossil record; plant responses to pollutants; fossil plant taphonomy; plant extinction risk; and invasive plants.


  • Plant ecology and conservation: understanding impacts on plants in natural and human-dominated environments
  • Identifying and understanding plant extinction:  fossil record to modern biodiversity crisis
  • Understanding the plant fossil record: developing plant-based proxies to understand plant responses to previous periods of environmental upheaval and climate change
  • Invasive plant ecology and control; particularly Japanese knotweed

Current/recent projects:

Leaf traits and extinction risk: investigating the association between leaf traits and extinction in both a modern and palaeo context.

CLCI: Climate – Leaf Chemistry Interactions (funded by the White Rose University Consortium) focuses on investigating the relationship between leaf chemistry and climate, https://whiterose.ac.uk/collaborationfunds/clci-climate-leaf-chemistry-interactions/

Understanding and mitigating Japanese knotweed: investigating non-chemical or reduced chemical means of controlling Japanese knotweed

Ecological pedagogy: investigating methods of improving teaching and learning in ecological and botanical subject areas at university

 Selected publications:

Bacon, K.L., Brown, C., Boom, A., & Gill, F.L. (2020) Investigating chemical preservation in herbarium specimens of Humulus lupulus Linnaeus 1753. Natural Sciences Collections Association Notes & Comments 15: 1 – 4.

Peacock, J., Ting, J. and Bacon, K.L., (2018) Economic value of trees in the estate of the Harewood House stately home in the United Kingdom. PeerJ DOI: 10.7717/peerj.5411

Fennel, M., Wade, M., & Bacon, K.L., (2018) Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica): An analysis of capacity to cause structural damage (compared to other plants) and typical rhizome extension. PeerJ DOI 10.7717/peerj.5246

Morris, P.J., Swindles, G.T., Valdes, P.J., Ivanovic, R.F., Gregoire, L. J., Smith, M.W., Tarasov, L., Haywood, A.M., and Bacon, K.L. (2018) Global peatland initiation driven by regionally asynchronous warming. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 115 (19): 4851–4856

Peacock, J., and Bacon, K.L., (2018) Enhancing student employability through urban ecology fieldwork Higher Education Pedagogies 1 – 11.

Steinthorsdottir, M., Elliott-Kingston, C., and Bacon, K.L. (2018) Cuticle surfaces of fossil plants as a potential proxy for volcanic SO2 emission: observations from the Triassic–Jurassic transition of East Greenland. Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments.98: 49–69

Soh, W.K., Wright, I., Bacon, K.L., Lenz, T.I., Steinthorsdottir, M., and McElwain, J.C., (2017) A new paleo-leaf economic proxy reveals a shift in ecosystem function in response to global warming at the close of the Triassic period. Nature Plants 3 17104

Bacon, K.L., & Peacock, J (2016) Making the most of university campuses for teaching ecology. New Directions in the Teaching and Learning of Physical Sciences 11

Bacon, K.L. & Swindles, G.T. (2016) Could an Anthropocene mass extinction define a new geological period? The Anthropocene Review 3: 208–217

Bacon, K.L., Haworth, M., Conroy, E., and McElwain, J.C., (2016) Can atmospheric composition influence plant fossil preservation potential via changes in leaf mass per area? A new hypothesis based on simulated palaeoatmosphere experiments. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2015.12.006

Watson, E., Swindles, G.T., Savov, I., and Bacon, K.L. (2015) First Holocene cryptotephra in Amazonia Scientific Reports 5 doi:10.1038/srep15579

Swindles, G.T., Watson, E., Turner, T.E., Galloway, J.M., Hadlari, T., Wheeler, J. and Bacon, K.L. (2015) Spheroidal carbonaceous particles are a defining stratigraphic marker for the Anthropocene. Scientific Reports 5 doi:10.1038/srep10264

Bacon, K.L., Belcher, C.M., Haworth, M., and McElwain, J.C. (2013) Increased atmospheric SO2 detected from changes in leaf physiognomy across the Triassic–Jurassic boundary interval of East Greenland. PLoS ONE. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.006061

Bacon, K.L., Belcher, C.M., Hesselbo, S.P. and McElwain, J.C. (2011) The Triassic–Jurassic boundary carbon-isotope excursions expressed in taxonomically identified leaf cuticles. Palaios 24 461–469

For more details and full publications see: http://www.nuigalway.ie/our-research/people/natural-sciences/kbacon/