Alongside being a media for plant growth soils provide many other essential ecosystem services, such as: storing carbon, regulating greenhouse gases, recycling nutrients, buffering pollutants and purifying waters.
Many of these services are carried out by microorganisms yet there are uncertainties as to how biodiversity itself contributes to soil service provision. With increasing pressures on land it is important that we understand how biodiversity regulates soil ecosystem services, particularly with respect to changes in land use in order to safeguard future soils.
Molecular methods reveal that soil communities are sensitive to management change. However, much research has focussed on taxonomic diversity, and new research is required to understand change in gene functions of relevance to soil ecosystem services.
The direct sequencing of soil DNA (whole-genome-metagenomics) is now an effective means of examining change in soil functional potential yet key challenges exist with respect to the interpretation of these datasets and determining their utility in informing on soil services.
This project will bring new knowledge by interrogating >100 soil metagenomes from land use transitions across the UK. The student will learn and develop new approaches for metagenomic analyses, to specifically address how land management affects soil functional potential. Soil functional genetic changes will also be related to actual change in processes by performing targeted functional assays based on detected indicator genes/pathways which are linked to major soil ecosystem services.
The core research and training activities will be in computational approaches to explore soil metagenomes (at CEH Wallingford), but uniquely this project will also use and develop relevant lab assays of soil functions (University of Bangor).
Through the research supervisors and links with several other funded projects this PhD offers a wide range of training opportunities, particularly in bioinformatics, ecosystem ecology (soil processes) and statistical methods (multivariate analyses, spatial upscaling and mapping).
First-class or 2.1 (Hons) degree or Masters degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate subject.