Biography

2015-present

BBSRC David Phillips Fellow in Soil and Ecosystem Ecology at the Faculty of Life Sciences, The University of Manchester, United Kingdom.

 

July 2014-January 2015

Maternity leave

 

2013-2015    

Faculty Fellow in Soil and Ecosystem Ecology at the Faculty of Life Sciences, The University of Manchester, United Kingdom.

 

2012-2013           

Senior Research Associate within EU-funded Ecofinders project in the Soil and Ecosystem Ecology group, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, United Kingdom.

 

2009- 2012          

Research Associate within EU-funded project SOILSERVICE in the Soil and Ecosystem Ecology group, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, United Kingdom.

 

2009      

PhD Soil Biology at the Department of Soil Quality (Wageningen University) and Alterra, Wageningen UR, Wageningen, the Netherlands (0.8 fte).

 

2003      

BSc and MSc Environmental Sciences with specialisations Soil Biology and Nature Conservation. Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands.

 

External responsibilities:

 

  • Member of the Editorial Board of Oxford Bibliographies Online Ecology
  • Trustee of the Ecological Continuity Trust
  • Member of the Advisory Board for the NERC Knowledge Exchange Programme on Sustainable Food Production
  • Member of the Editorial Board of Ecosystems
  • Associate Editor of the Journal of Ecology
  • Secretary of the Special Interest Group Plants, Soils, Ecosystems of the British Ecological Society
  • Member of the Review College of the British Ecological Society

 

Overview

At the core of my research are the organisms that live in the soil, such as fungi, bacteria, nematodes, mites, and many, many more barely visible creatures of which most people don't know that they exist. All these organisms work together to break down organic matter and release nutrients for plant growth, which is not only important for conserving our ecosystems, but also for producing our food. However, climate change, land use change, agricultural practices, and the loss and gain of plant species all threaten the diversity and functioning of these organisms, with direct consequences for the capacity of soils to feed us, but also for the diversity of aboveground organisms, and the conservation of ecosystems. Through my research, I want to find out how these human-induced disturbances affect communities of soil organisms, and how we can protect those to conserve our ecosystems, and to make agriculture more sustainable.

Research interests

My research interests are focussed on impacts of land use and climate change on soil biodiversity, and subsequently on the effects of changes in soil biodiversity on ecosystem functioning. I am particularly interested in how plants and soil communities interact under these changing circumstances, and how this influences ecosystem processes such as carbon and nutrient cycling. My main current research lines are:

 

Controls on ecosystem nitrogen retention

The use of fertilizer nitrogen (N) has doubled the amount of reactive N in the biosphere, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and eutrophication of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Despite the global impact of N on ecosystems, many uncertainties exist about the factors that determine the loss and retention of this N in terrestrial ecosystems. In my work, I focus on how linkages between plants and microbes control N retention, and how promoting such plant-soil linkages in agricultural systems can enhance N retention and reduce N loss.

 

Resistance and resilience of ecosystems to climate change

Much of my recent and current experiments focus on the effects of climate change on soil communities and their functioning; specifically, how land use change impacts on the ability of soil communities to withstand climate induced drought. Many climate change experiments have either an aboveground or a belowground focus; in my work, I aim to incorporate indirect effects and feedbacks between responses of plant and soil communities, and to quantify the consequences for carbon (C) and N cycling.

 

Fundamental controls on the stability of soil microbial communities and soil food webs

Although much work has been done on the stability of microbial communities in aquatic ecosystems, we still know little about how soil microbial communities will be affected by the recurring, compounded, and prolonged disturbances expected with global change. This is a significant gap in understanding, as the stability of microbial communities, defined as a community's ability to resist and recover from disturbances, has consequences for ecosystem function. I aim to unravel the relative controls on the stability of soil microbial communities through a range of mechanistic experiments.

 

Incorporating knowledge on controls of, and interactions between, plant and soil communities into sustainable agricultural systems

Ultimately, my aim is to use the above knowledge on how human-induced disturbances affect soil communities and their functioning to make agricultural systems more sustainable. How can we reverse the detrimental effects on soil food webs of some agricultural practices to restore the functioning of soils? Howe can we select, or breed, plant species that harness soil organisms and their functioning? Ensuring we produce enough food to feed the world in a sustainable way is one of the major challenges of our time, and with my research I want to contribute to this challenge.

 

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