Prof David Johnson

Chair in Soil Microbial Ecology

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Tel: 0161 2751555

Research in my group focuses on understanding biological interactions in the terrestrial environment, particularly among plants, soils, mycorrhizal fungi and herbivores. Much of this research concerns the role of biological interactions in the context of carbon and mineral nutrient cycling, and therefore my group often uses isotopic tracers to quantify nutrient fluxes. A key research focus is on the ecology of symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi that inhabit the roots of most plants and are ideal models for testing ecological theory, and crucial in regulating biogeochemical cycling and plant fitness. Our research is applied to tropical and temperate forests, peatlands, grasslands and agri-ecosystems.


Our new NERC-funded mobile laboratory (Gladiss the GasLab) is used to quantify fluxes of greenhouse and trace gases (N2O, CH4, CO2, NH3) in situ, and also enables quantification of the isotope ratios of some of these gases (15N2O, 13CO213CH4) in real time using automated chambers and the latest laser absorption spectrometers. Meteorological data are also collected. The 4x4 vehicle can operate remotely and is available for hire to the scientific community.


Active research projects

  1. NERC Standard Discovery (Feb 2019-Feb 2022) “Disentangling mechanisms of co-adaptation between trees and soil food webs in response to environmental perturbations.” PI: D Johnson. £793k        NE/S002189/1 
  2. NERC International Opportunities Fund (Feb 2018-Jan 2020) “Plant-soil feedbacks as drivers of seedling establishment in tropical and sub-tropical forests”. £48793. NE/R004986/1
  3. NERC-NSF Standard Discovery (April 2017-2020). “Mycorrhizal drivers of SOM formation and decomposition” PI: Jens Subke, Stirling. NSFDEB-NERC. £443k. NE/P011098/1  
  4. NERC Standard Discovery (Feb 2017-2020). “Social networking in soil: Biodiversity as a selective force for inter-plant signalling”. PI: D Johnson. £625k. NE/P001823/1
  5. NERC Standard Discovery (October 2016-April 2020). “Will more productive arctic ecosystems sequester less soil carbon? PI: Phil Wookey, Heriot Watt, CoI: D Johnson. £794k. NE/P002722/2.
  6. NERC Capital Equipment “Isotope trace gas laboratory” £500k. PI: Y Teh
  7. NERC Capital Equipment “In situmobile isotope trace gas laboratory” £590k. PI: D Johnson 
  8. “What makes a specialist special? The physiology of ecological specialization in plant-fungal mutualisms”. May 2015-2018. NERC Standard. £630k. PI: D Johnson. NE/M015653/1.


Areas of expertise

  • QK Botany - Mycorrhiza, Ecology, Soil Science, Biodiversity, Biogeochemical cycling, Sustainable agriculture, Ecosystem processes, Plant science

Education / academic qualifications

  • 1998 - Doctor of Philosophy, Changes in soil microbial biomass & activities and plant nutrition in response to simulated pollutant nitrogen deposition, The University of Sheffield

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