Study to solve soil science conundrum

Study to solve soil science conundrum

Scientists from the University of Aberdeen have been awarded almost £650K from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) for their part in a £1.7M project which aims to resolve one of soil science's major conundrums.

Scientists from the University of Aberdeen have been awarded almost £650K from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) for their part in a £1.7M  project which aims to resolve one of soil science’s major conundrums.

Professor David Johnson and Professor Liz Baggs from the University’s School of Biological Sciences are part of a team which will look at what controls the ability of soil to withstand, recover or adapt to major ‘disturbance’ events such as extreme weather conditions, which are increasing due to climate change.

The study, which is in collaboration with researchers from The University of Manchester and Queen’s University Belfast, will look at the role of soil animals (e.g. collembola, mites, nematodes) and how they react to disturbance events to affect soil functions. For example, shifts in the community composition of soil animals may affect the amount of nutrients in soil that lead to changes in the production of greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide.

The Aberdeen contingent of the team will carry out experiments at three different field sites, in Aberdeen, the Yorkshire Dales and Salisbury Plain.

These sites have been selected as representative of the main grassland types used by farmers for extensive grazing. Some are very species-rich and develop on calcareous soils, while others have fewer plant species and have developed on more acidic soils.

Professor Johnson, Director of the Institute of Biological Sciences, said: “This research will help us to gain a much better understanding of how soils function, and how they respond to global climate and land use change. This is important because soils are crucial for producing food and delivering of other benefits such as storage of carbon.

“Our method will see us manipulate soil food webs in situ and in more controlled conditions, and test the impacts on soil nutrient cycling and greenhouse gas production. In parallel, the data will be used to develop models that predict how disruption of soil food webs impact ecosystem processes. This research will allow us to inform policy makers on soil management strategies to future proof the functioning of soils.”

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