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Kenneth Loades

Staff picture: Kenneth Loades
Ecological Sciences
Ecological Sciences
Research Leader
+44 (0)1382 568858

The James Hutton Institute
Dundee DD2 5DA
Scotland UK


Soil is critical for food production but can often be poorly managed resulting in erosion and physical degradation. Research I perform ranges from soil stabilisation, physics, and root mechanics, to the development of tools and approaches for the quantification of soil condition. Understanding the services required of soil in the future, and soils ability to deliver these services, will be vital in managing soils to be resilient under changing environmental conditions.

My research also looks into furthering our fundamental understanding of root mechanical properties and what contributes to differences in the plant root properties allowing some species to thrive and others to struggle. Plant roots play a critical role in mechanically stabilising soil with both the roots of trees and finer root systems, such as grasses, having the potential to control and stabilise soil significantly.

Key to all reseach outputs is communication to those able to utilise knowledge gained from research. Knowledge transfer and exchange is something that I am passionate about which has led to representing soils and crops research within the SEFARI Gateway. As part of my research and SEFARI Gateway roles I regularly engage with stakeholders and policy departments to increase awareness of the most relevant ressearch findings.




Current research interests

Soil physics and soil quality

  • Soil physical characterisation - Currently we are investigating the use of novel tools to predict soil water properties, such as water holding capacity and pore size distribution, in arable fields. Historically soil physcial property characterisation has been an expensive and time consuming measure of soil quality.
  • Proxy measures of soil physics - In the long term we are hoping to develop a proxy to measure of soil physical properties which would enable not only quicker, but also lower cost, measurement of key soil parameters missing in many soil quality measurements.
  • Composts - The circular economy is a growing area with the production and use of compost requiring further research in understanding the optimal requirements for differing production systems. European funding is allowing us to investigate, and develop, 'bespoke' composts with the intention of increasing the use of such materials.

Plant and soil interactions

  • Root failure mechanisms Roots enmesh themselves into the soil matrix with stress taken up by roots during failure events, such as landslides. Understanding the way in which stress is taken up by roots will enable better predictions of their contribution to soil stabilisation and resistance of agricultural crops to lodging.

  • Root biomechanics - The structure of the root tissue underlies the strength and elasticity of plant roots. Lignin and cellulose potentially hold the key to where changes in strength and elasticity, between species, is derived from and one of my key research interests.

  • Impacts of different root traits - Root hair traits have been shown to increase resource efficiency but they may also increase plant anchorage, increasing soil resistance to failure.Through increasing understanding we are working towards improving soil stabilisation and mitigating potential effects of climate change, reducing soil erosion, and ensuring sustainable food production.



  • Loades, K.W.; Bengough, A.G.; Bransby, M.F.; Hallett, P.D. (2012) Reinforcement of soil by fibrous roots., In: Advances in Modeling Agricultural Systems: Trans-disciplinary Research, Synthesize, Modeling, and Applications. Vol 3. Enhancing Understanding and Quantification of soil-Root Growth Interactions (eds. Dennis Timlin and Laj Ahuja). ASA-SSSA-CSSA, Madison, WI
  • Hallett, P.D.; Loades, K.W.; Krummelbein, J. (2012) Soil physical degradation: threats and opportunities to food security., In: Montanarella, L., Hester, R.E. & Harrison, R.M. (eds.). Soil Quality and Food Security, Issues in Environmental Science and Technology. Royal Society of Chemistry Publishing, London, 198-226. (ISBN: 978-1-84973-426-4)

Scientific Posters / Conferences

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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.