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Plant Soil Ecology

Using research to enhance crop production and resilience to environmental change

The mechanistic understanding of below-ground processes from gene to landscape scale is fundamental to our ability to deliver excellent science in managed and (semi)natural environments. It is an imperative to address agricultural sustainability (e.g., resource use and management in novel cropping systems), and natural ecosystem management in the context of climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The application of multi- and increasingly trans-disciplinary skills (e.g., numerical ecology), and experimental testing of unifying concepts and novel methodological approaches focussed on fundamental processes underpinning greenhouse gas fluxes, soil organic matter storage/turnover, nutrient cycling, plant microbiomes, soil trophic interactions, plant productivity, plant physiology and soil health is key for advancing knowledge associated with climate change, sustainable production systems and biodiversity.

Our research outcomes strengthen the evidence base to support and inform decision makers, and practitioners in the adoption of sustainable land manageable practices.

Plant Soil Interactions (PSI) has recognised skills in quantifying chemical, physical and biological processes in soils, their interactions with plants, and how these are influenced by the environment and can be manipulated by management interventions (e.g., Genotype x Environment x Management) to contribute, for example, towards net zero emissions in the agricultural sector.

PSI research is aligned with current and forthcoming Institute research infrastructures, e.g., Centre for Sustainable Cropping (CSC), Advanced Plant Growth Centre, The International Barley Hub and Glensaugh Climate Positive farming initiative.

Photograph showing plants from the roots to the canopy representing the areas the group work on

  • Increasing global demand for food, feed and energy crops requires sustainable and resilient production systems that maintain yield without negatively impacting upon biodiversity or the environment
  • We explore the ability of plants to acquire nutrients and cope with (a)biotic stress in current and future climate and environments
  • We apply experimental approaches to link the soil microbiome to measures of biogeochemical cycling in plant-soil systems
  • Using long-term field experiments we identify factors in production systems responsible for structuring of soil biological communities and how this impacts plant productivity, GHG emissions and soil function
  • We assess the impacts of land use and land management practices on the health of soil ecosystems
  • We identify and assess indicators of soil function to support future monitoring programmes

Root Traits, Physical Interactions (Tracy Valentine)

Plant Physiology, Rhizosphere, Microbiology (Eric Paterson)

Root Physiology, Rhizosphere Biochemistry (Tim George)

Soil Ecology, Nematology (Roy Neilson)

Molecular Microbial Biogeochemistry (Maddy Giles)

Soil Physics (Ken Loades)

PSI researchers lead several projects within the Scottish Government funded Strategic Research Programme.

Our recent funding success include Root2Res, and ECHO (funded by Horizon Europe), and AgroMixNorth (funded by NordForsk).


Areas of Interest

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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.