Healthy soils are the basis for sustainable agriculture, but they are threatened by erosion and nutrient loss, worsened by climate change. The use of artificial soils – mixtures of waste materials – would drastically increase the availability of soil for developments (ecotowns, agricultural land). Application of nitrogen (N)-rich materials is common practice when artificial soils are deployed, but it is not known if they really lack nutrients. This oversupply can result in strongly negative environmental impacts.
In this PhD project, you will characterise major N-sources
and N-cycling microbial communities in artificial soils, and use this knowledge
to improve the formulation and management of artificial soils. This will
underpin their wider implementation (e.g. as a resource for agriculture). You
will do this in collaboration with the Eden Project, where the use of
artificial soils was pioneered through regeneration of a disused quarry in
Cornwall using locally sourced waste. There, you will have the opportunity to
apply your findings, and make a lasting impact in line with the Eden global
1. Create and maintain soil experiments using artificial soil prototypes.
2. Apply isotope ratio-mass spectrometry (15N, 18O, and 13C) to identify sources and pathways of nutrient cycling.
3. Identify N-cycling organisms and communities (lipid fingerprinting, metagenomic sequencing).
4. Characterise the mechanisms of N-sourcing using open source statistical tools.
will be based at the University of Plymouth (Drs Lengger, Fitzsimons, Tappin)
where you will conduct experiments and analyses. You will collaborate with the
Eden Project for field work and an internship (Dr Warmington).
You will develop experimental, analytical, and transferable skills, through training from the supervisory team and dedicated courses. You will develop your skills in applied science, and communication with end-users.