BSc Ecology; MSc Soil Science (by Research)

Research PG


Contact Details


      Pre-2004 Annette was definitely going to be a vet, but then ecology caught her eye. Alongside regular procrastination activities like conservation work and co-founding the Photography Society she developed a passion for studying vegetation changes in response to their environment. She had a role as a ‘weekend water fairy’ with a bi-weekly responsibility for potentially ruining drought experiments. This led to being a research assistant working on diverse projects; Pb in game birds, peat analysis for historical Sn mining, As in rice and N-strategies of grassland species. She quickly realised that science is both rewarding and repetitive - there’s nothing more ‘rewarding’ than starting a new page in your lab-book. This led to a Research Technician position that was initially based in Analytical Services and then took a side-step into Soil Biophysics. She learnt from the ‘soil’ up; FIA, AAS, NCS, DOC, IC, GC, MP-AES and many more skills you can't attribute an acronym to. She quickly became an expert for finding ‘something that looks like this’ or building it if need be.

Ladybird in grass Puffins and puffin stamp Bluebells Blue butterfly 

     In 2016, as a self-professed postage stamp geek, she launched her own business, achieving accreditation from the Philatelic Traders Society who recognise dealer integrity and trust. She also undertook a part-time research MSc, working to the industrial mindset where next week means tomorrow. She collaborated with the Woodsmith Project (Sirius Minerals) on the effects of POLY4 fertiliser on soil properties. As this ended, her independent research continues as a postgraduate researcher on the, cue acronyms, UKRI NERC QUADRAT DTP. After thinking she wants to be the next Nobel Prize winner but finding out her supervisor, Professor Paul Hallett 'doesn't expect that,' she is currently planning how her project, which looks at the impact and interactions of different plant species on soil properties, can answer some exciting ecology questions.

Barley in the greenhouse Soil for oven drying  Soil cores with barley in the greenhouse


MSc, Soil Science University of Aberdeen 2020
By Research; with distinction
BSc, Ecology University of Aberdeen 2008
First Class

Memberships and Affiliations


Student Content Creator


SISA Level 1 (Future Thinker)

Member of the Philatelic Traders Society

Prizes and Awards

2008 Ecology Class Award


Research Areas


  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Community Ecology
  • Ecology
  • Plant Sciences
  • Soil Science

Our research specialisms are based on the Higher Education Classification of Subjects (HECoS) which is HESA open data, published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

Research Overview

My particular research interests are:

  • Plant-environment interactions particularly those affected by human degradation
  • Root-soil interactions especially as affected by water dynamics, root exudates
  • Plant-plant interactions and community dynamics such as during succession
  • Imaging of plant and root-soil systems through x-ray CT
  • Use of gardening to develop awareness of soil health and biodiversity
  • Study and collection of Armeria cultivars

Due to experiences in running my own business I also have ongoing interest in:

  • Public engagement of research particularly using online content and social media or through art.
  • Personal development, planning and innovation





Current Research

PhD: Do Plant Communities Manipulate Soil for Drought Resistance?

Supervisors: Professor Paul HalletProfessor Mark EmmersonDr Kenneth Loades 

This project is currently in its early stages but will look in detail how different plant roots can influence the drying and wetting of the soil environment. We will particularly focus on an aspect called 'soil repellency' or 'hydrophobicity'. A soil that is repellent to water is a widespread problem in agriculture and causes problems with erosion and nutrient loss because water is unable to infiltrate into the soil evenly. Yet soil repellency is a wide spread occurence in natural systems and it is potentially linked to being a healthy stress reponse in such soils. As such it is a phenomenom that plants have evolved and adapted to encounter, so it is likely they are able to manipulate or adapt to it in different ways. At the community level plant interactions could also occur that further influence the development and alteration of a soil's repellency and most importantly study at the ecosystem level may allow us to gain an understanding of how plants mediate it. This could allow novel information to be fed into agricultural systems to allow the protective mechanisms of soil repellency to be embraced and harnessed to reduce the negative impacts observed with extreme hydrophobicity.

 Coastal grassland Sand dunes

Proposed National Plant Collection

Plant Heritage

Work is currently underway to apply for a Proposed National Plant Collection of Armeria cultivars. Over the next few years this will allow development of a recognised collection. National Plant Collections are co-ordinated by Plant Heritage and recognised by institutions such as Kew Royal Botanic Gardens and the RHS. They help to protect and preserve plants, most often those with horticultural interest, from being lost over time. Owners are expected to maintain curated collections of their area, develop herbarium specimens and generally share awareness with strutured plans in place in case the worst should happen.

Armeria cultivars (also known as sea pinks or thrift) are not currently held within a collection in the UK. Current work on this project has identified at least 150 cultivated varieites, around half of which are not going to be easy to track down. They are small, compact plants with white, pink, red or purple pom-pom flowers and are well adapted to dry and coastal conditions. Furthermore, they are easy to propagate and have a long flowering season so are an ideal group to hold the fort and spread the word for. Our native species, A. maritima, is a very common occurence in coastal areas and montane regions.

Past Research

Lichen Succession on the Branches of Quercus petraea

Supervisor: Dr Sarah Woodin

The environmental conditions along a tree branch vary significantly from the outer canopy to the internal trunk. This project investigated the potential for succession of epiphytic lichen species along a Oak tree branches in a planted Atlantic oakwood. There was stong evidence of a change in species in just a few metres of branch.


The Effects of Polyhalite (POLY4) on Soil Structure, Stability and Nutrient Behaviour

Supervisors: Professor Paul HalletDr Timothy LewisProfessor Graeme Paton

Soil stability and structure are key to soil health - a soil with good stability and structure will reduce the impacts of erosion, compaction and nutrient loss. POLY4, made from the mineral polyhalite, is a new fertiliser, that along with essential K also contains Ca, Mg and S. There is evidence that it is a useful fertiliser for use by crops and also that it could provide added benefits for soil struture due to the Ca and Mg. Initial investigations supported the idea that it could improve the tensile strength of soils at increasing application rates. Further investigations revealed soil-dependent negligible or positive effects on soil structure and stability at fertiliser application rates but that it does have potential as a soil amendment for use to remove Na in saline soils. When compared with conventional MOP, growth of barley to first awns appearing was similar, but the additional nutrients contained in POLY4 meant that the soil lost less nutrients overall. In the longer term this would likely have a positive effect on soil strcture and stability. In summary polyhalite (as POLY4) had negligible effects on crop (barley) growth and negligible or positive effects on soil structure, stability and nutrient status.

Slains Castle, Cruden bay


Knowledge Exchange and Public Engagement

2019 'I'm a Scientist' Get me Out of Here contributor in the general science 'Seaborgium Zone'.



2016-2018: Collaborated with Sirius Minerals to investigate the impacts of POLY4 (polyhalite) fertiliser on soil structure. Initial work was incorporated into the company's marketing materials which fed into Sirius Minerals acquiring investor funding for developing the new mine in Scarborough, UK.

2016-2020: BBSRC Rhizosphere by Design; Southampton University and James Hutton Institute

Research Funding and Grants





University of Aberdeen Undergraduate Alumni Busary

£1000 pa 


Friends of the Cruickshank Botanic Garden Student Summer Bursary

Paid summer position in Cruickshank Gardens


British Ecological Society Specialist Course Grant

Attendance of 3 day specialist Field Studies Council Lichen Identification Course


Carnegie Undergraduate Vacation Scholarship

Assistance towards honours year fieldwork


MSc Project Funding

[Preparation of the project proposal] c.£45k over 2 years, to cover staff wage, tuition fees plus research budget


Interact Travel Award

Travel costs towards 2019 Interact Public Engagement Conference 



 Tuition fees, stipend plus research and travel fund


Teaching Responsibilities




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