Professor David Robinson
Chair in Plant & Soil
BSc, PhD, FSB
Citation information for most of my scientific publications is available here.
- 2010-present Keeper of the Cruickshank Botanic Garden
- 2003-2011 Deputy Head, School of Biological Sciences
- 2003-2007 Head, discipline of Plant and Soil Science
- 2000-present Chair in Plant and Soil Science
- 1996 Visiting Research Fellow, University of Western Sydney
- 1987-2000 Research scientist, SCRI, Dundee
- 1984-1987 Research scientist, Macaulay Institute, Aberdeen
- 1979-1983 PhD, Plant Ecology, University of Sheffield (Ian Rorison)
- 1976-1979 BSc Hons, Biology, University of Manchester
I study the nitrogen and carbon cycles, plant growth and resource capture in response to environmental factors, and the interactions between plants and soil.
Many of the approaches that I use involve stable isotopes (e.g., 13C and 15N) as tracers or at natural abundances. Developing simple, interpretive models based on isotopic information has been a recurring theme throughout my career.
Some of our main research achievements include:
- With Dr Yuanhe Yang and others, detecting a long-term, large-scale increase in soil acidity in the grasslands of northern China (Global Change Biology) and associated decreases in soil inorganic carbon content (Global Change Biology). We have also found some interesting patterns in the natural abundance of 15N in high-altitude soils and vegetation (Ecosystems).
- Estimating the heterotrophic CO2 flux from soil using a novel three-end-member 13C mixing model (Soil Biology and Biochemistry)
- Making direct measurements of the simultaneous capture by competing plants of soil nitrate and ammonium (PLoS ONE)
- Determining dynamic trajectories of plant resource competition (New Phytologist)
- Developing an allometric modelling approach to estimate dynamic changes in the the root weights of competing plants (Annals of Botany)
- Discovering how localised root proliferation and up-regulation of nutrient uptake rate contribute to nitrogen capture by competing plants (New Phytologist 127: 635-674; Proceedings of the Royal Society B 266: 431–435; Plant and Soil 232:41–50)
- Unravelling subtle interactions between elevated CO2 concentration, water and denitrification and identifying a possible plant-induced amplification of the greenhouse effect (Soil Biology and Biochemistry 31:43–53)
- Developing an interpretive, mechanistic model of 15N/14N fractionation in plants (Planta 205:397-406)
- Characterising the diversity of stress responses in barley genotypes using stable isotope (15N and 13C) fractionations (Journal of Experimental Botany 51: 41–50;Trends in Ecology and Evolution16:153–162)
- Using allometric (metabolic) scaling theory to identify a potentially huge under-estimation in global root biomass (Functional Ecology 18:303-308) and revealing the implications for the terrestrial carbon sink and for soil carbon storage (Proceedings of the Royal Society B 274: 2753-2759; see also Nature Reports Climate Change)
- Quantifying the nature and extent of carbon transport between plants connected by common mycorrhizal networks (Journal of Experimental Botany 50: 9–13; see also Nature 13 September 2007)
- Describing the structure of belowground food webs from patterns of 15N and 13C natural abundances of vegetation and soil invertebrates (Soil Biology and Biochemistry 34:1507-1512).
Controls on ecosystem carbon partitioning
With Dr Guangshui Chen of Fujian Normal University, China, I am investigating how carbon is partitioned among components of vegetation (leaves, stems, roots) in relation to environmental factors and among ecosystem processes (including primary production and respiration). We have identified important allometric constraints on GPP and trade-offs between components of productivity in forest ecosystems across the globe. Comparable constraints and trade-offs also govern the soil-surface CO2 flux and its components.
Environmental drivers of CO2 fluxes from 'historical' soil organic matter and the implications for European carbon stocks
Pete Smith and I obtained a NERC research grant to investigate how CO2 released from old soil organic matter depends on temperature and moisture. The project is in collaboration with Pete Millard and Andy Midwood (James Hutton Institute), who have developed a new 13C technique to distinguish plant-derived C from that derived from soil organic matter. With this technique we plan to measure soil CO2 fluxes and their 13C compositions at forests in Italy and Germany, where we expect to see large climatic variations. We will then use the relationships between CO2 flux, temperature and moisture to model the future sustainability of soil C in Europe. The project started in late 2009 and will last for three years. Fabrizio Albanito has been appointed as Research Fellow and Jonathan Mcallister the research technician.
Below: soil-surface gas sampling chambers (and Fabrizio) deployed at San Rossore, Italy.
Direct in situ measurements of resource competition by plants along environmental gradients
Funded by NERC, this recently completed three-year project in collaboration with Rob Brooker at the James Hutton Institute, Clare Trinder (post-doctoral researcher) and Hazel Davidson (research technician) tested some long-standing controversies about the role of competition as an ecological process, using nitrogen as the key resource. We have measured competitive N uptake directly using 15N labelling in both pot and field experiments.
Below: (left) With Rob Brooker, planting seedlings of Dactylis glomerata and Plantago lanceolata at one of our experimental sites, Mar Lodge Estate, Deeside; (right) Pretending to have single-handedly set up 720 pots for an experiment at one of our other sites, the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen.
Clare presented a paper at the British Ecological Society Annual Meeting at the University of Hertfordshire in September 2009 and at the Ecological Society of America in Pittsburgh in August 2010. I spoke at the BES annual meeting in Sheffield in September 2011.
Modelling the global nitrogen cycle
With Andrew Starkey and Calum Burgoyne (research student) in the School of Engineering, I am using a systems-biology approach to estimate the major nitrogen fluxes required to maintain a stable global nitrogen cycle. The ultimate aim of this work is to develop a computational framework to allow 15N natural abundance data to be interpreted in terms of the likely changes in N flux and pool size. Andy presented a joint paper on some aspects of this work at WorldComp2009 in Las Vegas, in July 2009.
Much of my other research has focused on the work of PhD students:
- Use of stable isotopes to quantify carbon sequestration in managed grasslands (Lucy Marum, current PhD student)
- What determines the balance between plant and microbial CO2 production in soil? (Helen Snell, current PhD student)
- Plant-soil carbon-dynamics and the structure/ functioning of soil biological communities under contrasting farming systems (Claire Ghee, current PhD student)
- Modelling the global nitrogen cycle using high-performance computing (Calum Burgoyne, PhD 2012)
- Aspects of potassium-environment interactions among barley cultivars (Khaled Shaheen, PhD 2012)
- Differential responses of a Scottish landrace of barley (Bere) to a range of agricultural inputs in Orkney (Syed Shah, PhD 2011)
- Relationships between above- and belowground biodiversity in Machair ecosystems (Stefanie Vink, PhD 2011)
- Factors affecting phosphorus-use efficiency in barley genotypes (Abdul Bari Billaid, PhD 2011)
- Root traits and water- and nitrogen-use efficiencies in wheat cultivars (Hussein Mansoor, PhD 2005)
- Carbon and nitrogen dynamics of clover root systems (Gavin Scott, PhD 2005)
- Nitrification in acidic forest and grassland soils in relation to nitrogen and sulphur deposition (Kris Hultman, PhD 2005)
- Linking leaf trait diversity to nutrient cycling and fitness in tropical rain forest species (Daisy Dent, PhD 2004; Emily Swaine, PhD 2007)
- Nitrogen source preferences in heathland plants (Lora Crabtree, PhD 2005)
- Measuring and modelling Rubisco dynamics in cereal leaves (Louis Irving, PhD 2004)
- Potential uses of bracken in organic agriculture in Scotland (Eric Donnelly, PhD 2003)
- Investigating irrigation and groundwater quality in the United Arab Emirates (Waleed bin Braik, PhD 2002)
- Break crops in ley/arable rotations in organic agriculture (Melissa Robson, PhD 2002)
- Trophic inter-relationships between soil invertebrates and plants investigated using stable isotope natural abundances (Roy Neilson, PhD 1999)
- Ecosystem Processes (PL 3303 and PL 5303)
- Current Issues in Biological and Environmental Sciences (BI 4504)
- BUGs: Biology for Undergraduates (BI 1006)
- Diversity of Life (BI 2012 and 2013)
- BEST: Biological Enhanced Skills Training (BI 2011)
- Biological Topics in Plant and Soil Science (BI 25P2)
- Plant Ecology (PL 3804 and PL 5701)
- Climate Change (EK 5701)
Below: Ecological Methods field course at Bettyhill, 2011 (Course organiser 2001-2011)
- Editor, Functional Ecology (1999-2005)
- Editorial Advisory Board, New Phytologist (1995-2005)
- Consulting editor, Plant and Soil (1996-2004)
- Associate editor, Journal of Horticultural Science (1990-1993)
- Member, NERC Terrestrial Sciences Peer Review Committee and Peer Review College (2002-2005)
- External examiner, BSc Biology, University of Manchester (2009-2012)
- Fellow of the Society of Biology (2010)
- Member, Science Review Panel, Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa (2009). Below (L-R): Steven Chown; David Robinson; Richard Cowling; Dan Simberloff.
- I succeeded Prof Ian Alexander as Keeper of the Cruickshank Botanic Garden in 2010. In this role I help to run the Garden by supporting the work of the Curator, the Head Gardener and the Garden Team, by liaising with the senior management of the university, and by serving as a trustee of the Cruickshank Trust.
- Elected member of the university Senate (2008-2012).
- Member of the Student Disciplinary Committee Panel (2011-present).
- School contact for the College staff mentoring programme.
- College academic representative on the University TRAC steering group.
A book review.
page content last modified: