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Helaina Black

Staff picture: Helaina Black
Ecological Sciences
+44 (0)844 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Aberdeen AB15 8QH
Scotland UK

Helaina’s research in soil ecology and soil science spans over 28 years with extensive practical experience in agricultural and semi-natural ecosystems of UK and Africa. Her research projects typically involve multi- to trans-disciplinary approaches and engage stakeholders from farmers, regulators, policy-makers to Governments at local to international levels. Since 2011, Helaina has won >£2.5M in research funding from RCUK, Natural England, SEPA, SNH, EU and Scottish Government. Through a career based in a number of large research organisations and more recently as a Company Director and Trustee of a charity, she has a wealth of experience in coordinating and leading scientific and organisational teams.  Examples include: the soils component of Countryside Survey 2000 (MASQ: 1997-2002); Scottish Government RERAD Programme WP3.3. the Function and Value of Soils (2006-2011) and currently the NERC/Dfid funded ESPA ALTER consortium (2014-2016) which is investigating links between soils and ecosystem services in Ethiopia and Uganda. Helaina currently holds a position on the UN FAO supported Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils; she is a past President of the British Society of Soil Science and a member of the British Ecological Society. Helaina is a visiting lecturer at Lancaster University and takes an active role in teaching soil science to post-graduates through the NERC Summer Schools (2015 is “Dirt Science:An introduction to soil systems”) and the NERC Joint NERC-BBSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Soil Science (STARS).

Current research interests 

My current research centres on improving our ability to measure, monitor, manage and predict the contribution of soils to social, economic and environmental benefits. This embraces the significance of soil biodiversity in ecosystems; the multi-functionality of soils; opportunities to improve soil functions and implications of drivers of change on soils e.g. climate, pollution, people and policy. Under the Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme, she is working with colleagues on developing “good ecological status of soils”. This includes a comprehensive PLFA analyses for soil microbial community structure in the National Soil Inventory for Scotland and investigating the relative sensitivity of soil quality indicators to pollution in partnership with SEPA. Other projects include:

  • NERC / Dfid ALTER (Alternative Carbon Investments in Ecosystems for Poverty Alleviation) is a 3 year international research initiative with partners from UK, Ethiopia and Uganda. ALTER aims to demonstrate how improved knowledge about soil degradation can be used to address poverty issues.
  • Establishing the soils baseline for the Natural England Long Term Monitoring Network (including chemical, physical and biological characteristics).
  • With colleagues from SNH and SEPA, Helaina is involved in the implementation of the Soil Monitoring Action Plan as part of Scottish Government’s Environmental Monitoring Strategy.
  • Assessing soil change in the SCIAF coordinated Kulima Programme in Zambia, Malawi and Burundi which is funded by Scottish Government Aid and SCIAF. This includes a novel multi-aspect assessment of soils in over 1000 households using sustainable agricultural management practices
  • SCOPE Rapid Assessment Project on the Multiple Benefits of Soil Carbon with publication of a new SCOPE CABI book in late 2014
  • UK Soil Observatory portal funded by NERC and BIS
  • Scotland’s soils website for The Scottish Government


Helaina's highlighted publications

  • Bradford, M.A.; Wood, S.A.; Bardgett, R.D.; Black, H.I.J,; Bonkowski, M.,; Eggers, T.; Grayston, S.J.; Kandeler, E.; Manning, P.; Setälä, H.; Jones, T.H. (2014) Discontinuity in the responses of ecosystem processes and multifunctionality to altered soil community composition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1413707111
  • Banwart, S.; Black, H.; Cai, Z.; Gicheru, P.; Joosten, H.; Victoria, R.; Milne, E.; Noellemeyer, E.; Pascual, U.; Nziguheba, G.; Vargas, R.; Bationo, A.; Buschiazzo, D.; de-Brogniez, D.; Melillo, J.; Richter, D.; Termansen, M.; van Noordwijk, M.; Goverse, T.; Ballabio, C.; Bhattacharyya, T.; Goldhaber, M.; Nikolaidis, N.; Zhao, Y.; Funk, R.; Duffy, C.; Pan, G.; la Scala, N.; Gottschalk, P.; Batjes, N.; Six, J.; van Wesemael, B.; Stocking, M.; Bampa, F.; Bernoux, M.; Feller, C.; Lemanceau, P.; Montanarella, L. (2014) Benefits of soil carbon: report on the outcomes of an international scientific committee on problems of the environment rapid assessment workshop, Carbon Management, 5, 2, 185-192.
  • Aitkenhead, M.J.; Coull, M.C.; Towers, W.; Hudson, G.; Black H.I.J. (2013) Prediction of soil characteristics and colour using data from the National Soils Inventory of Scotland., Geoderma, 200-201, 99-107.
  • Aitkenhead, M.J.; Albanito, F.; Jones, M.B.; Black, H.I.J., (2011) Development and testing of a process-based soil model (MOSES) for ecosystem services., Ecological Modelling, 222, 3795-3810.
  • Aitkenhead, M.J.; Black, H.I.J., (2011) Exploring potential contributions of soil microbes to Martian terraforming through soil simulation., CAREX Conference on Life in Extreme Environments, Dublin, October 2011.
  • Aitkenhead, M.J.; Black, H.I.J., (2011) Threats to Scotland's Soils - BSSS Meeting report., The Auger, May 2011.

Helaina's most recent publications

  • Mitchell, R.J.; Beesley, L.; Briggs, R.; Cuthbert, A.; Dawson, J.J.C.; Helliwell, R.C.; Hewison, R.L.; Kerr, C.; Leith, I.D.; Owen, I.J.; Potts, J.M.; Newman, G.; Smith, D.; Shephard, L.J.; Sturgeon, F.; Taylor, A.F.S.; White, D.; Williams, A.; Williams, E.; Black, H.I.J., (2013) Testing soil quality indicators., Report to SEPA.
  • Robinson, DA.; Hockley, N.; Cooper, D.M.; Emmett, B.A.; Keith, A.M.; Lebron, I.; Reynolds, B.; Tipping, E.; Tye, A.M.; Watts, C.W.; Whalley, W.R.; Black, H.I.J.; Warren, G.P.; Robinson, J.S., (2013) Natural capital and ecosystem services, developing an appropriate soils framework as a basis for valuation., Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 57, 1023-1033.
  • Smith, P.; Ashmore, M.R.; Black, H.I.J.; Burgess, P.J.; Evans, C.D.; Quine, T.A.; Thomson, A.M.; Hicks, K.; Orr, H.G., (2013) The role of ecosystems and their management in regulating climate, and soil, water and air quality., Journal of Applied Ecology, 50, 812-829.
  • Aitkenhead, M.J.; Coull, M.C.; Towers, W.; Hudson, G.; Black, H.I.J., (2012) Predicting soil chemical composition and other soil parameters from field observations using a neural network., Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, 82, 108-116.
  • McVittie, A.; Norton, L.; Martin-Ortega, J.; Glenk, K.; Aitkenhead, M.; Aalders, I.H.; Hough, R.L.; Smart, S.; Edwards, F.; Kenyon, W.; Black, H.I.J.; Dunbar, M.; Maskell, L., (2012) Valuing the impacts of ecosystem service interactions for policy effectiveness., Valuing Nature Network. Final Project Report.
  • Waylen, K.A.; Eastwood, A.; Banks, E.; Black, H.I.J.; Brown, I.; Brooker, R.; Coull, M.C.; Irvine, R.J.; Kyle, C.; Macleod, K.; McVittie, A., (2012) Integrated frameworks to support the ecosystem approach., EAWG3 Workshop Report.
  • Bell, M.J.; Worrall, F.; Smith, P.; Bhogal, A .; Black, H.I.J.; Lilly, A.; Barraclough, D.; Merrington, G., (2011) UK land-use change and its impact on SOC: 1925-2007, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 25, Article Number: GB4015.
  • Black, H.I.J.; Ritz, K.; Harris, J.A.; Cameron, C.; Campbell, C.D.; Chamberlain, P.M.; Creamer, R.; Pawlett, M.; Wood, S., (2011) Scoping biological indicators of soil quality, Phase II., Defra Final Contract Report SP0534.
  • Brown, I.; Black, H.I.J., (2011) UK climate change risk assessment: Biodiversity and ecosystem services. Tier 1 sector report., Report to Defra
  • Brown, I.; Ridder, B.; Alumbaugh, P.; Barnett, C.; Brooks, A.; Duffy, L.; Webbon, C.; Nash, E.; Townend, I.; Black, H.I.A.; Hough, R.L., (2011) UK climate change risk assessment: Biodiversity and ecosystem services. Tier 2 sector report., Report to Defra. Deliverable 1.7, EU FP7 REFRESH Project.
  • Brown, I.; Ridder, B.; Alumbaugh, P.; Barnett, C.; Brooks, A.; Duffy, L.; Webbon, C.; Nash, E.; Townend, I.; Black, H.I.J.; Hough, R.L., (2011) Climate change risk assessment for the biodiversity and ecosystem services sector., Final Report to Defra - UK Climate Change Risk Assessment.
  • Fitton, N.; Ejerenwa, C.; Bhogal, A.; Edgington, P.; Black, H.I.J.; Lilly, A.; Barraclough, D.; Worral, F.; Hillier, J.; Smith, P., (2011) Greenhouse gas mitigation potential of agricultural land in Great Britain., Soil Use and Management, 27, 491-501.
  • Hart, K.; Baldock, D.; Tucker, G.; Allen, B.; Calatrava, J.; Black, H.I.J.; Newman, S.; Baulcomb, C.; McCracken, D., (2011) Costing the environmental needs relating to rural land management., Final report to EU DG Environment.
  • Ritz, K.; Harris, H.; Pawlett, M.; Cameron, C.; Black, H.I.J., (2011) Climate change impacts on soil biota - development of a resistance and resilience assay., Final Report to Defra CTE0825.
  • Ritz, K.; Harris, J.; Pawlett, M.; Cameron, C.; Black, H.I.J., (2011) Climate change impacts on soil biota - development of a resistance and resilience assay., Final Contract Report to Defra Project CTE0825.
  • Robinson, D.A.; Allton, K.; Bhogal, A.; Black, H.I.J.; Costigan, P.; Ellis, M.; Emmett, B.A.; Frogbrook, Z.; Gardner, M.; Giles, J.; Glendining, M.; Hallett, S.; Higgins, A.; Hill, C.; Hill, N.; Jones, A.; Jordan, C.; Kingdon, A.; Kirk, G.; Lawley, R.; Skate, J.; Rees, G.; Vanguelova, E.; Towers, W., (2011) Informa Tec Soils., Report to Defra for the InformaTec-Soils Meeting, June 2011.
  • Smith, P.; Ashmore, M.; Black, H.I.J.; Burgess, P.; Evans, C.; Hails, R.; Potts, S.; Quine, T.; Thomson, A.; Biesmeijer, K.; Breeze, T.; Broadmeadow, M.; Ferrier, R.C.; Freer, J.; Hansom, J.; Haygarth, P.; Hesketh, H.; Hicks, K.; Johnson, A.; Kay, D.; Kunin, W.; Lilly, A.; May, L.; Memmott, J.; Orr, H.; Pickup, R.; Purse, B.; Squire, G., (2011) Regulating services., In: UK National Ecosystem Assessment. Understanding Nature's Value to Society. Technical Report. Cambridge, UNEP-WCMC, Chapter 14, pp535-596.
  • Tordoff, G.M.; Chamberlain, P.M.; Crowther, T.W.; Black, H.I.J.; Jones, T.H.; Stott, A.; Boddy, L., (2011) Invertebrate grazing affects nitrogen partitioning in the saprotrophic fungus Phanerochaete velutina., Soil Biology and Biochemstry, 43, 2338-2346.
  • Erber, C.; Bruneau, P.; Black, H.I.J., (2010) State of Scotland's soils - soil biodiversity chapter., SEPA.
  • Glenk, K.; McVittie, A.; Towers, W.; Watson, C.; Black, H.I.J., (2010) Socio-economic data on Scottish soils - collection and development., Report to SEPA.

Scientific/Conference Posters

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Printed from /staff/helaina-black on 01/02/15 06:02:03 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.