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Can temporary grassland leys improve the health of agricultural soils?

Project Description

Soil carbon has always been linked to soil quality and soil health, particularly since managed fields where soil carbon has increased often show enhanced crop yields. The positive outcomes delivered by soils with increased organic carbon have been linked to nutrient retention and/or reduced soil bulk density, among others. Generally, carbon has been quantified as total soil carbon, but is present in a range of chemical forms, from reactive to stable.

Establishing short-term diverse grasslands in arable and pasture ecosystems (agricultural ley fields) is established as a mechanism for developing and sustainably maintaining UK soil health by increasing soil carbon. While some of the benefits of enhanced biodiversity are immediately apparent, including increased pollinator services, many long-term impacts on soil function are unclear. This research project will explore UK grasslands, managed under a range of Environmental Stewardship options, with an eye towards understanding their impacts on soil health and function, microbial biodiversity, and climate.

We are looking for an enthusiastic student to engage in this exciting project that combines biogeochemical field data, plant biology/ecology to quantify and predict how soil carbon is cycled in set-aside agricultural soils. The ideal candidate will enjoy interacting with academics and stakeholders from a range of backgrounds and want to apply their scientific training to an important applied question.

The student who participates in this research will have the opportunity to engage in cutting edge research across several disciplines, including ecology, biogeochemistry, and genomics. This project will incorporate field and greenhouse work components that will be combined with laboratory analyses.

Outcomes from this research will inform future land management practices. Specific objectives include:
a) Quantify impacts on soil carbon from individual and mixed species in greenhouse and field experiments
Specifically we will explore:
i. soil carbon and nitrogen cycling, from reactive to stable compounds
ii. the influence of soil depth on the relative ratio of these soil fractions

b) Provide advice for farm managers regarding soil and climate
impact of management activities

This is a CASE studentship in partnership with Natural England, who run the main sites on which the project work will be based. The student will have the opportunity to develop hypotheses and experiments that build upon previous work, and to develop public engagement skills based on NE’s work.

Funding Notes

Funding: This is a 3.0 year fully-funded studentship part of the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership in Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment (ACCE). The studentship covers: (i) a tax-free stipend at the standard Research Council rate (around £15,000 per year), (ii) tuition fees at UK/EU rate, (iii) research consumables and training necessary for the project.

Entry requirements: At least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent in any relevant subject that provides the necessary skills, knowledge and experience for the DTP, including environmental, biological, chemical, mathematical, physical and social sciences.

How good is research at University of York in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.37

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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