Sustainable Soils and Grassland Systems
(Rothamsted and North Wyke sites)
Head of Department: Professor Keith Goulding
Departmental Secretary: Sally Murdoch
Aims and Mission
The Sustainable Soils and Grassland Systems Department aims to understand, model and manipulate the abiotic and biotic processes in arable and grazed grassland soils to improve the function, resilience and sustainability of farming systems.
Areas of scientific expertise
The Department has internationally-acknowledged expertise in the biology, chemistry and physics of soils and soil processes in arable and grazed grassland systems. It has particular expertise in nutrient and pollutant cycling, especially of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur and micronutrients, the recycling of organic manures, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, soil-root interactions, and soil and crop modelling.
How the department fits with the main Rothamsted strategic objectives
The Department delivers to Rothamsted's strategic objectives in the areas of sustainable soil and grassland management.
ISPG links and delivery
The Department links most closely to the Delivering Sustainable Systems research programme, delivering research on sustainable soil and grassland management. It also delivers research into soil-root interactions to '20:20 Wheat®', on carbon cycling, sequestration and modelling to 'Cropping Carbon', and on micronutrient quality of cereal grains to 'Designing Seeds'.
Sustainable Crop Yields and Quality (Steve McGrath)
Research includes: Optimisation of micronutrient status in food crops, risk assessment of metals and metalloids in soils, bio-indicators of pollution, focussing on heavy metals and manufactured nanoparticles, biogeochemistry of phosphorus, sulphur and trace elements in soils, microbes and plants.
Quantifying Sustainability (Andy Whitmore)
Research focusses on evaluating the sustainability of modern agricultural practices and the tradeoffs with the provision of environmental goods and services. An ecosystem services approach has been adopted for use with mathematical models that quantify, value and compare the provision and resilience of provision of goods and environmental services in both space and time and in the face of stresses such as climate change and growth in demand.
Modelling Bioenergy Systems (Goetz Richter)
Evaluation of the productivity of perennial energy crops in land use systems, environmental impact of energy crops using a wide range of modelling techniques (including Monte Carlo and scenario simulation), using process-based crop models to aid the of selection improved genotypes, coupling of crop models to agro-ecosystem models to assess the feedbacks on water, carbon and nutrient cycles in a variable and changing environment, use of meta-models to provide farmers, industry and policy-makers with system management tools.
Nutrient cycling (Martin Blackwell)
The focus of the nutrient cycling group is on understanding and optimising N and P dynamics in agricultural systems across a range of scales from catchment to microbe. Research includes the impacts of soil drying-rewetting on nutrient availability, the significance of organic P in soils (incorporating 31 P NMR and 18O-PO4 isotope techniques) and the mitigation of nutrient losses to surface waters via the use of buffer strips and subsurface permeable reactive barriers.
Trace gas emissions (Dave Chadwick and Tom Misselbrook).
Research focusses on understanding the processes and controls of trace gas production and emissions from agricultural systems. We quantify nitrous oxide, methane, and ammonia emissions from the range of agricultural sources, assess management practices to reduce those emissions, and collate the agricultural nitrous oxide, methane and ammonia emissions inventories for the UK. Group members represent the UK on a range of international steering groups and global networks, and we co-ordinate the Defra/DA project to Improve the nitrous oxide inventory from UK agriculture.
Soil, Plant invertebrate interactions (Phil Murray)
Research includes: understanding the role of soil communities in decomposition and nutrient cycling; development of soil food webs and the spatial distribution of soil insect pests; reconciling the demands of grassland productivity and ecosystem services.
Soil carbon dynamics (Jennifer Dungait)
Research includes: Determining the potential to increase carbon (C) storage in soils through the quantification of soil organic carbon (SOC) turnover at the molecular level using compound-specific stable isotope approaches, including the role of soil microorganisms and earthworms in SOC decomposition and stabilization, and to establish the role of SOC in soil quality for food security.
Key refereed papers
Leaflets and other publications
Operates two national networks for monitoring insect populations in the UK. More...
Provides the research community access to a range of in situ state-of-the-art instrumentation in hydrologically isolated fields and farms to better address key issues in sustainable agriculture. More...
A database of interactions between pathogens and their hosts maintained at Rothamsted Research with international input. More...
These have been running since the mid 19th Century, provide a unique experimental system and archive of soil and plant samples. More...
Rothamsted Research receives
strategic funding from the BBSRC
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