Physical interactions between roots, microbes and soil

Roots and associated microbes have considerable impact on the physical properties of soil.  I use approaches from soil physics, materials science and engineering to quantify mechanical and hydrological processes that underly the physical engineering of soil by biology.  Work also examines the damage to structure by agricultural production.  Specific research areas are listed below.

  • Rhizosphere physics
    Research examines processes involved in the formation of the rhizosphere and the potential implications to the uptake of resources, stabilisation of soil and crop resilience to abiotic stresses.  This includes examination of key root traits and microbial processes that improve rhizosphere formation.
  • EcoEngineering
    In collaboration with the Geotechnical Engineering Group at the University of Dundee and Dr Glyn Bengough at The James Hutton Institute, we are looking at using plant roots as a ‘green’ engineering solution to the stabilisation of engineered slopes.
  • Microscale hydrology
    Plant and microbial exudates influence the contact angle and surface tension of water in soils. This can cause very low levels of hydrophobicity to develop, which has implications to water uptake, preferential flow, overland flow and soil stability. A microscale infiltrometer allows for measurements to be made at a fraction of millimetre in size, allowing for rhizosphere hydrology to measured with intact samples.
  • Physical resilience of soil
    This work is closely integrated with research into the biological resilience of soil. The ability of soil to recover particular functions (i.e. decomposition, water transport) after stresses is examined using rapid laboratory tests that accentuate stresses and recovery processes.

External Duties