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.