Dr Jessica Thorn
Research Associate



Dr. Jessica Thorn is a Research Associate working with Prof. Marchant on the Development Corridors Partnership, supported by the Global Challenges Research Fund. Concurrently, she holds an African Women in Climate Change Science fellowship (AWiCCS), and Climate Research 4 Development fellowship hosted by the African Climate and Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town, supported by the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences. She combines participatory scenario analysis, probabilistic social-ecological modelling, multi-scalar institutional analysis, and ecosystem service quantification to measure potential impacts of Chinese foreign direct investment in transportation corridors in East Africa on ecosystem service provisioning, livelihoods, and social coherence.  She is also interested in the synergies and trade-offs of ecological infrastructure in peri-urban areas in Tanzania and Namibia. As a postdoctoral researcher she worked with Prof. Julia Klein at Colorado State University and Prof. Adrienne Grêt-Regamey at ETH Zurich. She operated within a National Science Foundation-funded research project, the Mountain Sentinels Collaborative Network, to employ probabilistic models and climate and land use scenarios to assess the potential impact of climatic and demographic change on local actor decisions and ecosystem service provisioning. In this role, she regularly communicated with scientists and practitioners from around the world, using datasets from Tibet, Switzerland and Kenya.

Born in the vast Namib desert, Jessica draws from twelve years of work experience, travelling to over 50 countries. She gained her BSocSci (Hons) from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, in psychology and environmental and geographical science, and her MSc from the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford. She was awarded a scholarship to complete her DPhil at the Biodiversity Institute, Oxford. After conducting research and working with a community-based organization (CBO) to access housing for 164 poor urban dwellers in the City of Cape Town, Jessica worked as coordinator of the Climate Action Partnership of Conservation International. Here, she managed eight conservation programs across South Africa using landscape approaches for climate mitigation and adaptation. She then was selected as a Young Scholar for Humanitarian Aid for the UN International Strategy on Disaster Risk Reduction and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. She worked on urban flooding in Nairobi and Western Kenya. Her PhD took her to South Asia (Terai Plains of Nepal, Central India) and West Africa (Northern Ghana), where she quantified the impact of climate change on ecosystem service provisioning, biodiversity and wellbeing in smallholder farmer agro-ecosystems. As part of this work with the CGIAR Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security, Jessica facilitated national- and community-level governance workshops related to themes of food security, water and soil management. She developed and trialed methodologies for climate adaptation, designed training modules, established women’s cooperatives, early childhood development centers and regional diverse, plausible scenarios. She has similarly conducted research for the Centre for International Forestry Research, Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, Cambridge, London School of Economics, Brown University, University of Cape Town, and the Western Cape Government.  Working in the policy-research interface, Jessica sits on advisory boards for CBOs in Kenya, Nepal, Peru and South Africa. She is an elected CSO member of the Global Environmental Facility; has advocated for ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Mexico; is a contributing author to The Economic of Ecosystems and Biodiversity reports, and has managed organic horticultural production and reforestation programs in Peru. Jessica has taught international courses in Global Biodiversity Trade and Indigenous Communities, Field Ecology, Wildland Ecosystems, Urban Geography, Global Challenges for the 21 st Century, and Cities of the South.  For this work she has received over 20 awards, fellowships, and grants, including the League of European Research Universities leadership award, Brettschneider (Cornell), Mind the Environmental Gap (Oxford), and the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Seal of Excellence (European Commission).



Key skills and interests

Probabilistic Bayesian modelling; Participatory Scenario Planning; Systematic reviews; Participatory Rural Appraisal; Appreciative inquiry; Space-for-time substitution; Ethnographies; Managing large open source spatial-temporal datasets; Social-ecological systems; Global environmental change; Climate impacts assessment, ecology and adaptation; Ecosystem services; Land-use planning; Functional diversity; Food security; Agro-ecology; Decision-making under uncertainty; Indigenous ecological knowledge; Urban disaster resilience; Mountain systems


Peri-Urban Resilient Ecosystems (PURE): Catalysing participation through innovation to strengthen rural-urban climate resilient futures in Namibia  (2020-)  

Aim: Support the development of just and representative climate resilient urban strategies in dryland Windhoek, Namibia, by applying a pluralistic values framework and participatory scenarios planning and considering rural-peri-urban linkages

Donor: Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) 

Climate Research 4 Development/ African Women in Climate Change Science fellowship - Urban-ecolution (2018-)
Aim: Predict synergies and trade-offs of water-related ecological infrastructure for climate adaptation in peri-urban areas in Namibia and Tanzania
Donor: Canada International Development Research Centre, UN Economic Commission for Africa,  Climate Research 4 Development with the Next Einstein Initiative African Institute of Mathematical Sciences and University of Cape Town African Climate and Development Initiative

Development Corridors Partnership (2017-)
Aim: Enhance the relevance and quality of the development corridor; research being done in eastern Africa on ecosystem services, scenario analysis and livelihoods analysis, and link the research in eastern Africa to the work of Chinese research institutions advising on development
Donor: Economic and Social Research Council Global Challenges Research Fund

Mountain Sentinels Collaborative Network (2016-)
Aim: Explore and evaluate transdisciplinary participatory social-ecological modelling frameworks for mountains globally, and link science with policy and practice
Donor: US National Science Foundation Coupled Natural-Human Systems, Colorado State University

Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (2016)
Aim: Quantitatively model ecosystem ecophysiology and biogeochemical cycling, including carbon
sequestration and leaf hydrology
Donor: University of York Ecosystems Lab, School of Geography and Environment

Arts, Science and a Thirsty World (2014-2015)
Aim: Promote interdisciplinary dialogue on creative visual, literary and musical arts responses to the global
water crisis
Donor: The Oxford Research Centre for Humanities, Brettschneider Fellowship Cornell University

Systemic Integrated Adaptation (2012-2016)
Aim: Assess ecosystem services, biodiversity and human wellbeing along climatic gradients in smallholder agro- ecosystems in the Terai Plains of Nepal and Northern Ghana
Donors: CGIAR Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security Adaptation to Long-term climate change - Systemic Integrated Adaptation, University of Oxford Biodiversity Institute, Department of Zoology, and Merton College, British Ecological Society

The effectiveness of on-farm conservation land management (2013-2015)
Aim: Systematic map of the evidence that exists for the effectiveness of on‑farm conservation land management strategies for preserving ecosystem services in developing countries
Donors: Centre for International Forestry Research Evidence-based Initiative, University of Oxford Biodiversity Institute, Department of Zoology, and Merton College

Autonomous adaptation to global environmental change in peri-urban settlements (2010-2014)
Aim: Investigate dynamics of adaptation and risk reduction at the level of the community, using the case study of Mathare Valley Slums, Nairobi

Donors: Department for International Development - Overseas Development Initiative; Climate and Development Knowledge Network, Oxford Bullock Award, Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, United Nations International Strategy on Disaster Risk Reduction, Rhodes Trust Southern African Fund

Lived experience of land occupation in Zille Raine Heights (2007-2014)
Aim: Through experiences of land occupiers in Cape Town, explore an informal settlement’s attempts to gain legal right to the land and the state’s attempts to eradicate the settlement and relocate residents to the edge of the city.
Donors: National Research Fund of South Africa, International Labour Research and Information Group (South Africa), Contesting body politics, University of Cape Town Department of Environmental and Geographical Science

Climate Action Partnership (2009-2010)
Aim: Review lessons learnt from landscape approaches to climate adaptation and mitigation by the conservation sector in South Africa
Donor: Conservation South Africa

Regional bodies of state (2009)
Aim: Review donor perspectives of the role of regional organizations in peace and security across Africa
Donor: London School of Economics, University of Cape Town Department of Environmental and Geographical Science

Racial integration in post-apartheid South Africa (2008-2009)
Aim: Explore the social, economic and political drivers of racial integration which have occurred over the last fifteen years in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg
Donor: Brown University Department of Sociology

State of substance abuse service delivery (2008)
Aim: Review the effectiveness of substance abuse service delivery in the Western Cape, South Africa
Donor: Provincial Government of South Africa Department of Social Development

Research group(s)

York Institute for Tropical Ecosystems (KITE)
Ecology and Conservation

Research assistants

Lilian Khaemba (Kenya)
Benjamin Mwangi (Kenya)
Alpha Lutta (Kenya)
George Owira (Kenya)
Mary Mwangi (Kenya)
Francis Kago (Kenya)
Saima Haukelo (Namibia)
Michael Mdongwe (Tanzania)
Rebeca Biancardi (South Africa)
Erica Ndayaamena (Namibia)
Tokelo Shai (South Africa)
Marlin Fortuin (South Africa)
Deogratious Kayumba (South Africa)
Binay Mahargen (Nepal)
Perey Yambopone (Ghana)
Renu Shakya (Nepal)
Anita Bake (Nepal)
Dev Kala Dumre (Nepal)
Fabisa Novia (Kenya)
Katherine Seigal (UK)
Gabrielle Cummings (UK)
Rachel Friedman (UK)
Abigail Motley (UK)
Emily Slnkular (USA)
Alyssa Allen (USA)
Dani Palm (USA)


Hamido Seki (PhD) Spill over land use effects and livelihood sustainability in extractive mining areas, University of York, Department of Environment and Geography (with Prof. Rob Marchant and Dr. Andrew Marshall)

Tyler Breen (MA) Mapping potential livelihood benefits from local ecosystem services in the Elangata Wuas social-ecological system: Kajiado, Kenya, Emory University, Masters in Development Practice

Amayaa Wijesinghe (MSc) The potential of green areas for urban resilience in south western Africa: challenges and opportunities in the peri-urban informal settlements of Windhoek, Namibia, U. of Oxford, Masters of Biodiversity Conservation and Management,  

Valentina Giombini (MSc) Urban green spaces in formal and informal areas in a capital city of Southern Africa: Urban inequality and the potential for sustainable urbanization in Windhoek, U. of Oxford, Masters of Environmental Change and Management


Full publications list

Journal articles

Achieng, C. O., Mulwa, R., Kibugi, R., Thorn, J. P. R., and Oguge, N. (2019). Prospects of scenario planning for Kenya's protected ecosystems: An example of Mount Marsabit. Current Research in Environmental Sustainability. In press. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.crsust.2019.10.001 

Thorn, J. P. R. (2019). Adaptation “from below” to species distribution, habitat and climate-driven changes in agro-ecosystems in the Terai Plains of Nepal. AMBIO. 1-16. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-019-01202-0

Klein, J., Tucker, C., Nolin, A., Hopping, K., Reid, R., Steger, C., Grêt-Regamey, A., Lavorel, S., Weibel, B., Brunner, S., Müller, B., Yeh, E., Boone, R., Bourgeron, P., Butsic, V., Castellanos, E., Chen, X., Dong, S., Greenwood, G., Keller, M., Marchant, R., Seidl, R., Spies, T., Thorn, J. P. R.  and Yager, K. (2019). Catalyzing transformations to sustainability in mountain social-ecological systems. Earth’s Future. 7, 547-557. https://doi.org/10.1029/2018EF001024

Klein, J. A., Tucker, C. M., Nolin, A., Reid, R., Thorn, J., et al. (2019). An integrated community and ecosystem-based approach to disaster risk reduction in mountain systems. Environmental Science and Policy. 94(4) 143-152.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2018.12.034

McIntosh, E. J., Chapman, S., Kearney, S. G., Williams, B., Althor, G., Thorn, J. P. R., Pressey, R. L., McKinnon, M. C., and Grenyer, R. (2018). Absence of evidence for the conservation outcomes of systematic conservation planning around the globe: A systematic map. Environmental Evidence. 7(2) 1-23. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13750-018-0134-2

Friedman, R., Law, E., Bennett, N., Ives, C., Thorn, J. P. R., and Wilson, K. (2018). The how just? Reviewing the social equity concept in conservation research. Environmental Research Letters. 13 (5) 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aabcde

Thorn, J. P. R., Friedman, R., Benz, D., Willis, K. J. and Petrokofsky, G. (2016). What evidence exists for the effectiveness of on-farm conservation land management strategies for preserving ecosystem services in developing countries? A systematic map. Environmental Evidence. 5(13): 1-29. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13750-016-0064-9

Thorn, J., Snaddon, J., Kok, K., Waldron, A., Zhou, W., Bhagwat, S., Willis, K. J., and Petrokofsky, G. (2015). How effective are on-farm conservation land management strategies for preserving ecosystem services in developing countries? A systematic map protocol. Environmental Evidence. 4(11): 1-12.  https://doi.org/10.1186/s13750-015-0036-5

Thorn, J. P. R., Thornton, T. F and Helfgott, A. (2015). Autonomous adaptation to global environmental change in peri-urban settlements: Evidence of a growing culture of innovation and revitalisation in Mathare Valley Slums, Nairobi. Global Environmental Change, 31 (March): 121-131. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.12.009

Thorn, J. and Oldfield. S. (2012). A politics of land occupation:  a perspective on state practice and everyday mobilisation in Zille Raine Heights, Cape Town. Journal of African Studies, 46 (5): 518-530. https://doi.org/10.1177/0021909611403710

Bourke, L., Butcher, S., Chisonga, N., Clarke, J., Davies, F, and Thorn. J. (2009). Fieldwork stories: negotiating positionality, power and purpose. Feminist Africa, 13: 95-105.

Book chapters and training manuals

Thorn, J. (In press). Indigenous ecological and ethno-medicinal knowledge of smallholders in multifunctional landscapes. Thornton, T. F., and Bhagwhat, S. (eds) Handbook on indigenous and ecological knowledge. Routledge: United Kingdom.

Jones, E., Arango, D., Ramirez-Villegas, J., M., Bonilla, O., Bailey, M., Chaudhury, A., Sova, C., Thorn, J., Helfgott, A., and Jarvis, A. (2014). Farms of the future guidelines. Copenhagen, Denmark: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

Thorn, J. P. R., and Benson, K. (2009). Training manual on lessons from Zille-Raine Heights informal settlement for housing activists. International Labour Research and Information Group: South Africa.

Papers in conference proceedings

Thorn, J. (2019) Indigenous and scientific knowledge of soil regulation services, and factors effecting decision-making in the Terai Plains of Nepal. EAI International Conference on Innovations and Interdisciplinary Solutions for Underserved Areas, Cairo, Egypt . 14-15 February 2019. February

Thorn, J. P. R., Snaddon, J., Mann, D. and Willis, K. J. (2018) Potential impact of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem function: The case of dry season vegetable farms in Northern Ghana. InterSol 2018: EAI International Conference on Innovations and Interdisciplinary Solutions for Underserve Areas, Kigali, Rwanda. 24-25 March 2018. March.

Thorn, J. P. R., Snaddon, J., Waldron, A., Kok, K., Zhou, W., Bhagwat, S., Willis, K., and Petrokofsky, G. (2015) How effective are on-farm conservation land management strategies for preserving ecosystem services in developing countries? A systematic map protocol. XIV World Forestry Congress, Durban, South Africa, 7-11 September 2015. September.

Reid, H., Christensen, K., Dodman, D., Huq, S., Singh, H., Suarez, P., Thorn, J. P. R., et al. (2012) Community-based Adaptation, Sixth International Conference Proceedings. Hanoi, Vietnam. 18 – 24 April 2012. June.

Policy and official reports

Zhang, W. Bassi, A., DeClerck,F., Gowdy, J., Santamaria, M., Thorn, J. P. R., Adegboyega, A., Calvo Hernandez, C., Walker, D., et al. (2018) Systems thinking for eco-agri-food systems, and the need for TEEBAGRIFOOD Evaluation framework. TEEB Report.

Thorn, J. P. R. and Kawanga, V. (2017) Global Environmental Facility Civil Society Organization Expanded Constituency Report 2017. Global Environmental Facility. Swaziland, February.

RBG Kew (2016) State of the world’s plants - report. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.          

Thorn, J. P. R. (2013) Impact evaluation for Farms of the Future, Nepal and Systemic Integrated Adaptation. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Copenhagen, Denmark. October.

Thorn, J. P. R., Helfgott, A., Chaudhury, A., Sova. C., and Bailey, M. (2012-5) Systemic Integrated Adaptation. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Copenhagen, Denmark. (six reports).

Thorn, J. P. R. (2011) An energy resource assessment of non-grid electrification to deliver ICT to rural schools: Zabasa Secondary School, Eastern Cape of South Africa. Household Energy Network. May.

Thorn, J. P. R. and Marais, S. (2010) Lessons learnt from ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation and mitigation in South Africa. Conservation International. South Africa. April.

Thorn, J. P. R. (2009) State of substance abuse service delivery in the Western Cape. Provincial Government Department of Social Development, Sub-directorate of Substance Abuse. Cape Town. June.

Thorn, J. P. R. (2008) Urban transformation and racial integration in post-apartheid South Africa – the case of Sybrand Park and Eastridge suburbs in Cape Town.  Department of Sociology of Brown University. November.

Thorn, J. P. R. and Nathan, L. (2008) Donor perspectives on the role of regional organizations in peace and security. London School of Economics, University of Cape Town. May. 

Scientific communication outreach 

Thorn, J. (2019) Participatory Scenario Planning for the Development Corridors Partnership. September. Blog webpage.

Thorn, J. (2019) Consultative meeting to undertake the climate change research and development priorities. United Nations University Conference Center, University of Ghana. July.  Presentation.

Thorn, J. (2019) Responses to the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land. August.  University of York Media commentary.

Thorn, J. (2019) UN International Day for Biodiversity. May. Next Einstein Forum Media Interview.

Thorn, J. P. R. and Friedman, R. (2018). Working out what’s fair in conservation in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Conversation. September. Newspaper articles.

Thorn, J. P. R. and Steger, C. (2018). Mountains in Louisiana? Mountain Sentinels’ Reflections on AAG 2018. Mountain Sentinels Collaborative Network. April. Blog.

Thorn, J. P. R. (2018). Opportunities for sustainable investments in Africa in a changing climate. The Herzlia Association Alumni Newsletter. April. Magazine article.

Shrestha, K., Thorn, J. P. R. and Klein, J. (2018). Building resilience in the Hindu Kush Himalaya and beyond. Mountain Sentinels Collaborative Network. March. Blog.

Tucker, C., Thorn, J. P. R. and Klein, J. (2018). Program on Ecosystem Change and Society Open Science Conference. Mountain Sentinels Collaborative Network. February. Blog.

Cosgrove, C., Thorn, J. P. R. and Klein, J. (2017). Up wait creek without a pilot. Mountain Sentinels Collaborative Network. December. Blog.

Cuni-Sanchez, A., Thorn, J. P. R. and Klein, J. (2017). Human needs and wildlife management: Pathways 2017. Mountain Research Initiative. November. Blog.

Thorn, J. P. R. (2017). Mountain Sentinels hosts a participatory modelling workshop. Mountain Sentinels Collaborative Network. September. Blog.

Thorn, J. P. R. (2017). How the international community can enhance resilience to natural disaster risk. Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory Colorado State University EcoPress. June. Blog.

Ponchione, C., Thorn, J. P. R. and Morrison, B. (2015). Arts, Science and a Thirsty World. Video installation for the exhibition AQUAE Venezia 2015 “Visualizing Water Worlds”. June – September. Documentary.

Thorn, J. P. R. (2015). Adapting to a thirsty world (We live with the fear every day that our family will be swept away by the river). Postmaster the Merton Record. September. Magazine article.

Thorn, J. P. R. and Hulme, D. (2013) Waterscape of sounds from Ghana. Audio soundscape presentation.

Thorn, J. P. R. (2013). Rice, rain and harvests: How vision and collaboration can put climate adaptation into action. Eco-Agriculture Partners – Landscapes for People Food and Nature. November. Blog.

Ademiluyi, A. and Thorn, J. P. R.  (2013) “lind vegetable farming: One calabash at a time. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. March. Blog.

Sova, C. and Thorn, J. P. R. (2012) Believable climate futures explored by Nepalese farmers. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. December. Blog.

Thorn, J. P. R. and Thornton, T. F. (2011). Handbook of climate change adaptation with focus on Europe. McCallum, S., Prutsch, A, Grothmann, T. and Swart, R. (2012) (eds.) EarthScan Publishers. London, UK. Book review.

Thorn, J. P. R. (2010) Working together for a secure future of South Africa’s water resources. Environment Magazine. Pg. 78-79. August. Magazine article.

Thorn, J. P. R. (2010). Water security and climate change. Veld and Flora Botanical Society of South Africa. June. Magazine article.

External activities


Current:  Next Einstein Forum Fellow 2019-2021;  African Academy of Sciences Affiliate Member 2020-2024; IPCC Sixth Assessment Report Chapter Scientist; Mountain Sentinels Collaborative Network 2016-2020; British Institute of East Africa 2011-2020; University of Nairobi Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation; African Conservation Centre

Past: American Association of Geographers (Africa and Mountains working groups 2017-2018); Ecosystem Service Partnership (Ecosystem-based Disaster Risk Reduction working group) 2017; Global Environmental Facility Expanded Southern African Constituency 2017;  University of Oxford Biodiversity Institute 2012-2016; University of Oxford Environmental Change Institute 2010-2016; South African Geographical Society 2007-2008

Editorial duties

Peer reviewed articles for: Environment and Planning D Society and Space, Sustainability MDPI, Ecology and Society, AMBIO, Ecosystem Services, Land Use Policy, Biological Diversity, Environmental Evidence, Agriculture and Food Security, Urban Climate, World Development, Journal of Community Development, Interdisciplinary Solutions for Underserved Areas; International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health; Environment

Grant reviewer for: Leading Integrated Research for Agenda 2030 in Africa, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark Danida Fellowship Centre

Contact details

Dr Jessica P.R. Thorn
Department of Environment & Geography
University of York
YO10 5NG

Tel: 01904 324212