PhD: Improving soil biology derived ecosystem services
Gardeners in the UK are keen to grow healthy plants and recognise the need to maintain good quality healthy soils in order to achieve this. Subsequently, they often choose to apply organic materials, often obtained from composting locally sourced materials, in order to add plant beneficial nutrients and improve soil structure. Once they have identified a material that works they tend to re-apply the same material year on year. However, there is paucity of information regarding the impacts of such repeated applications for ornamental horticulture on soil biology, or on the implications of these effects on wider ecosystem services. Benefits may include improved carbon storage and therefore playing a role in climate control, improved nutrient cycling to help support plant growth, as a habitat for soil organisms (biodiversity) and flood prevention through increased pore space and earthworm activity. Hence, the biology in garden soils may provide an important but as yet undefined role in environmental protection and the delivery of ecosystem services.
This project will utilise a 10year field trial located at The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Wisley Garden to investigate the effects of long-term organic material application to soil biology (specifically earthworms and microbiology), and relate this information to key soil functions. The student will also be given the opportunity to develop their own experiments to investigate specific benefits but on shorter time-scales.
This research aims to determine whether the long-term application of singular types of organic materials benefits the soil biology (earthworms and microbiology), and investigate whether any effects identified are likely to provide wider societal benefits (ecosystem services).
The research will impact both academia and the horticultural industry. The student will be encouraged to publish in internationally recognised academic journals and present at international conferences. Findings will also be disseminated to the horticultural industry via the RHS website (receives 40,000 hits a day) and grey literature (circulated to its 480,000 members), presenting at RHS and other events such as the Chelsea Flower Show and Hampton Court. The horticultural industry will benefit through improved evidence based knowledge regarding sustainable management practice. Findings will also benefit gardeners by improving soil biology education and influencing their decisions regarding the management of their garden soil.
This research offers an opportunity to be involved with horticultural research through collaboration with the RHS, thus improving knowledge exchange between the horticulture industry and academia while gaining a unique insight into horticulture policy. Both Cranfield University and RHS have an extensive PhD support mechanism and supporting facilities. Cranfield commitment to soil science is demonstrated by recently being awarded the Queen`s Anniversary Prize 2017 for Soil Research, and development of two new £3M agricultural technology centres that complement existing facilities. Similarly in 2014 the RHS began a strategic investment programme £100m into infrastructure and facilities around its 5 gardens. The PhD student will have access to training and facilities at both Cranfield University and the RHS.
The student will gain hands-on practical horticultural skills, including project management, experimental design and laboratory skills. The student will have access to Cranfield’s Doctoral Training Network which provides a platform of research skills development, and to a Learning and Development team. Academic skills gained will include scientific writing, specialist analytical skills, data management, statistical analysis, and presentation delivery. Media skills will also be offered as it is important to be able to disseminate knowledge to the wider public as well as specialist horticulturalists and academics. Access to a wide post-doctoral community will provide opportunities to network thus improving employment prospects.