Agriculture accounts for 9% of the UK’s and 30% of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The use of chemical-based pesticides and fertilisers as well as the disruption of soils contribute to these emissions. Improving soil health will help reduce agricultural GHG emissions, however the effects of practices such as pesticide application on soil systems, particularly soil microbial community composition and soil health is unknown. This is a critical knowledge gap as microbes provide key ecosystem services in soils, including nitrogen fixation, denitrification and methanotrophy. Alterations to the soil microbial communities (bacterial or fungal) due to the application of pesticides could increase synthetic fertiliser use, as well as agricultural greenhouse emissions.
For this project, the molluscicide, ferric phosphate will be used as a case study to quantify the effects of pesticides on soil microbial communities. Ferric phosphate may affect microbial communities by being directly toxic or by the chelators (e.g. EDTA, EDDHA) included in their formulations chelating micronutrients. The reduced bioavailability of these micronutrients through chelation could subsequently impact microbial ecosystem services and processes that depend on metalloenzymes (e.g., nitrogen fixation (Fe, Mo), denitrification (Fe, Cu) and methanotrophy (Cu, Fe, Mo)). The loss of these ecosystem services could subsequently affect crop yields and soil greenhouse gas emissions.
The selected student will work as part of a highly interdisciplinary team in collaboration with industry, De Sangosse, and will have access to host institute facilities including the Newcastle University farms. Research skills will include soil characterization, calculating greenhouse gas fluxes, determining micronutrient bioavailability, next-generation sequencing, microbial community analysis and bioinformatics.