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Roy Neilson

Staff picture: Roy Neilson
Ecological Sciences
Ecological Sciences
Soil Ecologist
+44 (0)344 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Dundee DD2 5DA
Scotland UK


Royis a soil ecologist, and his expertise lies in understanding functional interactions mediated by soil faunal groups in the context of food security and sustainable production. His research focusses on the interactions between soil fauna, plants, environment, and land management. He is a strong advocate of strengthening the evidence base to support informed decision-making, practice, and uptake of sustainable land management to minimization degradation and loss of soils, and to ensure the benefits delivered from soil are maintained. He has a significant track record of collaborating with industrial partners to deliver solutions for early adoption and deployment based on stakeholder need. Throughout his career, he has developed several tools for the benefit of the agricultural sector. including DNA diagnostics for soil-borne nematode mediated disease, and for monitoring soil health. His research interests also include developing integrated pest management (IPM) strategies to mitigate the impacts of soil-borne disease on cropping systems in the UK and the use of agricultural waste and co-products as a proxy fertiliser. The outputs of his research have included new understanding of the ecology and biology of soil fauna, especially free-living nematodes and earthworms and their functional role in soils. Roy has strong engagement with national and international policymakers and, for example, has recently led or contributed to reports providing underpinning knowledge on soil indicators and future research and innovation required to deliver resilient production ecosystems that support a just transition to net-zero emissions. He maintains productive relationships with the international soils research community, is an invited member to several national and international committees, and has published extensively in scientific and industrial domains.

Current research interests

  • Roy is a key staff member leading Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPM) research at the James Hutton Institute. For details of ongoing IPM research areas and projects, please visit the IPM@hutton website.
  • Biodiversity loss due to transport by soil erosion - Soil erosion is one of the world's most serious environmental problems leading to extensive losses of productive soil. Whilst much of the focus to date has been on the loss of soil, few studies have investigated the loss of biota during the erosion process. At a range of scales, laboratory to catchment, using soil nematodes as a model we are investigating the impact of rainfall induced soil erosion on soil microbiota. We will also investigate potential methods to mitigate the problem e.g. the application of geotextiles. Jointly funded by The Centre of Environmental Change and Human Resilience and The James Hutton Institute, in collaboration with Blair McKenzie, John Rowan, Barry Mulholland and Mike Fullen we aim to address this knowledge gap. Craig Baxter joined the team in September 2011 to commence a PhD studentship.
  • Nematode ecologynematodes are the most abundant Metazoan on earth and unlike commonly used biological indicators such as plants, butterflies and birds, nematodes occur in every habitat. Nematodes can also be classified into different trophic groups which can be a proxy measure of their function in soil. A molecular means of characterising nematode communities has been developed and subsequently used to determine the effect of changes in land management such as different soil tillage regimes (with Suzanne Donn, Tim Daniell and Bryan Griffiths). This is a cornerstone of our work in RESAS Workpackage 1.1. We have recently been funded by Genomia to further validate this nematode molecular tool as a bio-indicator of soil health and quality and develop a robust statistical framework for analysis of nematode community profiles (with Lea Wiesel and Jim McNicol).
  • Do endocrine disrupting compounds impact on soil nematode communities and thus soil function? - Previous research has demonstrated that endocrine disrupting compounds (EDC) have a deleterious impact upon a range of (in)vertebrates but few studies have investigated the effect of EDCs on soil communities. In collaboration with Tim Daniell, under the auspices of RESAS Work Package 3.3, we are investigating the impact of EDCs via sewage sludge application on soil nematode communities.
  • Plant-soil C-dynamics and the structure/ functioning of soil biological communities under contrasting farming systems – in collaboration with Eric Paterson, David Robinson (University of Aberdeen) and Paul Hallett using a suite of novel, quantitative isotopic approaches, we are characterising C-transfers from plants to soils, the processing of these plant-inputs through components of soil food-webs and their returns to the atmosphere through biological activity. We plan to use the Balruddery research platform which will offer an opportunity to extend these studies of soil C-dynamics and biological functioning within contrasting farm management systems (sustainable and conventional). These systems will differ in relation to biologically-driven C and nutrient cycles. The outcomes of the research would be directed toward effective management of soil C and maintenance of soil biodiversity. Claire Ghee joined the team on 1 October 2010 commencing a PhD studentship entitled "Plant-Soil C-dynamics under contrasting farming systems".
  • Strategies for quantifying and controlling free-living nematode populations and consequent damage by Tobacco Rattle Virus to improve potato yield and growth - funded by the Technology Strategy Board, commenced in January 2011, this multi-partner collaboration combining the expertise of industry with colleagues at The James Hutton Institute (Vivian Blok and Finlay Dale) and SAC aims to address concerns in the UK potato industry related to the impending withdrawal of approved nematicides and long-term concerns regarding the effects of climate change on free-living nematode populations. The project aims to develop a rapid molecular pre-plant molecular test for the target nematodes of concern, assess damage threshold levels of nematodes on current potato cultivars, identify potential alternative control strategies and develop molecular markers to facilitate the breeding of new potato cultivars resistant to Tobacco Rattle Virus. David Roberts joined the team in January 2011to develop a suite of qPCR molecular diagnostics for the target nematode species and investigate sources of potential TRV resistance within potatoes.
  • Risk of invasive species to Scotland's earthworms - during 1991/1992 an unique survey of earthworms species in Scotland was completed. As part of the RERAD funded work programme 3 these original sites were resampled during the period 2009-2011. Using this unique data we hope to be able to produce an indication of risk posed to a) native earthworm species by the invasive planarian, Arthurdendyus triangulatus, and b) the delivery of ecosystem services provided (in)directly by earthworms.
  • Free-Living Nematode Diagnostics – a diagnostic service is provided for the potato, soft-fruit and root vegetable industry to assess the abundance of key free-living nematode groups. Our service meets the necessary requirements for growers contracted to the major supermarket multi-nationals.

Current Research Projects

  • EU H2020 101000339 ‘IPMWORKS’ 2021-2026 (£210.951) (Co-I)
  • BBSRC BPD-CT/BB/T010657/1 ‘DES-BL’ 2020-2023 (£900,062) (Co-I)
  • ESMEE FAIRBAIRN FOUNDATION ‘SEAMS’ 2019-2023 (£286,481) (Co-I)
  • EU NSR INTERREG ‘SOILCOM’ 2019-2023 (£271,518) (Co-I)
  • SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT ‘ENDOSCOT’ 2020-2022 (£100,000) (Co-I) 

Past research

April 2011-present: Researcher at the James Hutton Institute
1982-April 2011: Researcher at SCRI
2007-present: Honorary Lecturer at Dundee University

Selected recent research grants

  • Do biogeotextiles increase soil resilience to erosion? (2011-2014, studentship funded by The Centre of Environmental Change and Human Resilience and the James Hutton Institute)
  • Validation of a high-throughput nematode molecular tool as a bio-indicator of soil health and quality (2011, funded by Genomia)
  • Strategies for quantifying and controlling free-living nematode populations and consequent damage by Tobacco Rattle Virus to improve potato yield and growth (2011-2016, funded by the Technology Strategy Board)
  • Plant-soil C-dynamics under contrasting farming systems (2010-2013, studentship funded by University of Aberdeen and SCRI)
  • Biodiversity and soil food web activity in differently managed grasslands (2008-2011, funded by Walsh Fellowship, Ireland)
  • Review the current state of Tobacco Rattle Virus and free-living nematode research in the UK (2006, funded by the British Potato Council, UK)

Membership of Societies

  • Society of Nematologists, 2004-
  • Association of Applied Biologists, 2003-
  • Russian Society of Nematologists, 1993-
  • European Society of Nematologists, 1990-

Editorial Duties

  • Associate Editor, South African Journal of Plant and Soil, 2012-
  • Editorial Board, Annals of Applied Biology, 2003-2012
  • Associate Editor, ZooTaxa, 2002-
  • Deputy Chief Editor, Russian Journal of Nematology, 2002-2004
  • Editorial Board, Russian Journal of Nematology, 1998-2002


  • Chariman Ecology Standing Committee, Society of Nematologists, 2007-2009
  • EAB Examination Board, University of Dundee, 2006-
  • Vice-chairman Ecology Standing Committee, Society of Nematologists, 2004-2007
  • Governing Board Member of European Society of Nematologists, 2000-2004

Teaching and training

PhD Students

Craig Baxter jointly funded by the The Centre of Environmental Change and Human Resilience/James Hutton Institute to investigate the impact of biogeotextiles on soil communities (co-supervised with Blair McKenzie, John Rowan and Barry Mulholland)

Claire Ghee jointly funded by University of Aberdeen/James Hutton Institute to investigate plant-soil C-dynamics under contrasting farming systems (co-supervised with Eric Paterson, Paul Hallett and David Robinson)

Xiaoyun Chen funded by the Walsh Fellowship (Ireland) to investigate the biodiversity and soil food web activity in differently managed grasslands in Ireland (co-supervised with Bryan Griffiths, Vincent O'Flaherty and Tim Daniell).

Recent Honours Students

  • Fiona Taylor (University of Dundee) - Characterisation of the soil microbial community structure associated with Trifolium repens (white clover) in a low input agricultural system.
  • Joanne Edgar (University of Dundee) - The impact of climate change on the fate of soil C.
  • Tom Godfrey (University of Dundee) – The effect of organic amendment on below ground soil nematode communities.
  • Jen Hesketh (University of Dundee) – Specificity of prey in soil predatory nematodes.


  • Boag, B.; Neilson, R. (2018) The potential detrimental impact of the New Zealand flatworm to Scottish islands., In: Veitch, C.R., Clout, M.N., Martin, A.R., Russell, J.C. & West, C.J. (eds.). Island Invasives Conference 2017: Scaling up to Meet the Challenge, University of Dundee, 10-14 July 2017. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, pp352-255.
  • Gorman, A.; McKenzie, B.M.; Rowan, J.S.; Neilson, R. (2018) Understanding the interactions of nematodes with soil during landscape redistribution processes., In: Sychev, V.G. & Mueller, L. (eds.). Novel Methods and Results of Landscape Research in Europe, Central Asia and Siberia. Volume 1 landscapes in the 21st Century: Status Analyses, Basic Processes and Research Concepts. Federal State Budgetary Institution, Moscow, pp195-199.
  • Roberts, D.M.; Oliveira, C.M.G.; Neilson, R.; Blok, V.C. (2016) Molecular diagnostics of plant-parasitic nematodes., In: Oliveira, C.M.G., dos Santos, M.A. & e Castro, L.H.S. (eds.). Diagnose de Fitonematoides. Millennium Editora Ltda, Campinas, Brazil, pp281-324.
  • Oliveira, C.M.G.; Neilson, R. (2016) Gêneros Xiphinema e Xiphidorus., In: Oliveira, C.M.G., dos Santos, M.A. & Castro, L.H.S. (eds.). Diagnose de Fitonematoides. Millennium Editora Ltda, Campinas, Brazil, pp123-152.
  • Neilson, R.; Creamer, R.E. (2010) Nematodes., In: Jeffrey, S., Gaqrdi, C., Jones, A., Montanarella, L., Marmot, L., Miko, L., Ritz, K., Peres, G., Rommbke, J. & van der Putten, W.H. (eds.). European Atlas of Soil Biodiversity. European Commission, Luxembourg, 102-103.
  • Neilson, R.; Donn, S.; Griffiths, B.S.; Daniell, T.J.; Rybarczyk, K.D.; van den Elsen, S.; Mooyman, P.; Helder, J. (2009) Molecular tools for analysing nematode assemblages., In: Wilson, M.J. & Kakouli-Duarte, T. (eds.). Nematodes as Environmental Indicators. CABI, Wallingford, pp188-207.
  • MacFarlane, S.A.; Neilson, R. (2009) Testing of transmission of Tobraviruses by nematodes., In: Coico, R., Kowalik, T., Quarles, J.M., Stevenson, B. & Taylor, R.K. (eds.). Current Protocols in Microbiology. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Chichester, UK, Chapter Suppl 12, 16B.5.1-16B.5.16.
  • Neilson, R.; Oliveira, C.M.G.; Hubschen, J. (2008) Molecular diagnostics of virus-vector nematodes., In: Rao, G.P., Valverde, R.A. & Dovas, C.I. (eds.). Techniques in Diagnosis of Plant Viruses. Studium Press LLC, Texas, USA, 249-264.
  • MacFarlane, S.A.; Neilson, R.; Brown, D.J.F. (2002) Nematodes., In: Plumb, R.T. (ed.). Advances in Botanical Research - Plant Virus Vector Interactions. Academic Press, 36, 169-198.
  • MacFarlane, S.A.; Neilson, R.; Brown, D.J.F. (2002) Plant Virus Vector Interactions., In: Plumb, R.T. (eds.). Advances in Botanical Research No 36 - Interctions Between Plant Viruses and Their Vectors. Academic Press, London and New York, pp169-198.

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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.