Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Category: Standard Studentships

The Sounds of Soil ā€“ understanding the relationships between soil structure, biodiversity and ecoacoustics

Project No. 2461

STANDARD PROJECT

Primary Supervisor

Dr Christopher Sandom – University of Sussex

Co-Supervisor(s)

Dr Katherine Williams – University of Portsmouth

Dr Alice Eldridge – University of Sussex

Summary

Healthy soil, as a complex ecosystem, is essential to ensure everything from food security and flood mitigation, to biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration.

Rationale: Healthy soil, as a complex ecosystem, is essential to ensure everything from food security and flood mitigation, to biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration. Intensive land uses degrade soil ecosystems and the benefits they can provide. Recovering soil health is an important policy objective that unites land managers from farming to nature conservation. Understanding soil ecological processes, the interactions between organisms and their environment, and how to monitor them effectively, efficiently and cheaply has been described as the next frontier in soil-health research.

This project will investigate 1) how plant and animal communities associated with different land uses create soil structure and how this structure helps meet the diverse needs of people and nature, and 2) whether soil ecoacoustics (the analysis of the sounds produced by soil) can be used to monitor soil health.

Methods: The research will be conducted with an engaged network of land owners/managers with diverse land uses along Englandā€™s South Coast, alongside lab based experiments. Data on land use practices and outcomes will be recorded from arable, pastoral, and conservation land uses varying in management intensity. Soil samples will be gathered and analysed for physical, chemical and biological health, including 3D imaging of soil and pore space structure. Pitfall trapping will assess dung beetle diversity and abundance. Lab experiments with controlled soil meso/macro-fauna will be set up and sound recordings of the soil in the field and lab will be collected and analysed. These data will be used to investigate the relationships between land use practices, soil ecosystem engineers (dung beetles), soil health, and soil ecoacoustics.

Impact: The research will improve understanding of how land management can improve soil health and how monitoring can be done effectively and cheaply with benefits for food production and biodiversity conservation.

Candidate qualities ā€“ interdisciplinary; field, lab, data analysis skills; innovative problem solver.

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