The School of Biological Sciences is an internationally recognised centre of excellence for research addressing the global challenges of environmental change and environmental impacts.
We integrate complementary expertise (soil science, biogeochemistry, ecosystem modelling, environmental remediation and global environmental change), across scales (laboratory to field) and biomes (high latitudes, temperate and tropical systems) using a range of cutting edge technologies (genomics, proteomics, mass spectroscopy) to deliver insight and understanding on the causes and impact of climate change, land management practice, environmental sustainability and pollution. Some key areas of current research include:
Soil microbial diversity
Microorganisms undertake and control the fundamental processes associated with the global biogeochemical cycling and ecosystem functioning. We use a range of molecular and traditional techniques in laboratory, microcosm and field systems to understand the factors that control microbial species diversity, abundance, community structure and function.
We focus on understanding the impacts of climate change on soil carbon stocks, and the potential of altered agricultural practice, soil management, bioenergy crops and carbon capture and storage to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. From this insight we have developed a range of decision support tools that model the impacts of land use on greenhouse gas emissions.
Plant Environment Interactions
Plants are exposed to many different environmental stresses that can limit plant growth and impact on crop yield. We focus on understanding how plants respond to these environmental conditions and how crop genetics, soils amendments and crop management can help overcome these environmental challenges. Recent research includes work on arsenic, biological and physical interactions in soil, water management, biochar, and zero valent iron.
Our research in terrestrial British upland and Arctic ecosystems addresses the drivers of change for native plant species, plant communities and ecosystem processes. Focus is on understanding the complex interplay between climate warming, increased nitrogen deposition, vegetation change, land management, increased herbivory and changes in carbon stocks at high altitudes and latitudes on the ecophysiology of individual species, inter-trophic interactions and ecosystem nutrient and carbon dynamics.
The life in our oceans provides a range of fundamental services including climate regulation via carbon sequestration and the recycling of key nutrient elements such as nitrogen. Much of the research conducted at Oceanlab examines the ways in which marine organisms interact with the cycles of carbon and nitrogen and how they are affected by environmental change.
We have a variety of active research programmes investigating the biogeochemistry of the open ocean and the seafloor across a range of locations that span from temperate estuaries down to the deep seafloor.
Biosensors and bioremediation
Development of a range of biosensors to pioneer research into the bioavailability of organics and heavy metals in soil and provide powerful, diagnostic assays which can be used in comparative ecotoxicological studies and to identify constraints to bioremediation.
This involves the first luminescence-based eukaryotic biosensors to allow in situ study of a wide range of microbial and microfaunal eukaryotes in the soil-plant-water system.
Understanding how the physical properties of soils affect biological processes. We examine how plants manipulate soil physical properties through seed germination, root anchorage and the formation of the rhizosphere, and conversely how soil physical conditions affect plant growth and how this changes associated with environmental stresses such as drought and herbivory.
We model all aspects of the environment, but specialise in global change impacts on ecosystems, soils, agricultural and land based options to mitigate climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, environmental and agricultural sustainability, global carbon cycle, ecosystem modelling, food security, ecosystem services, bioenergy (including BECCS) and other forms of energy modelling. As modelling specialists, we have numerous collaborations with experimental laboratory and field scientists within the University, elsewhere in the UK, and globally.