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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

James McDonald

PhD Student



Project Title: 

Taxonomic characterization of highland soils: a new horizon for ecosystem productivity?


Highland areas have historically been limited in their capacity to support productive ecosystems due to harsh conditions and infertile soil. Moisture, pH and mineralogy are important features of soil classification, though how these parameters influence biological community compositions between each soil category is poorly understood, with less still known about how these communities contribute to ecosystem functioning. A metagenomic approach is used to characterise faunal and fungal communities in highland areas located in England and Scotland. Using 18S and CO1 markers, community patterns will be determined at 35 sites against their respective soil parameters and environmental features, covering 9 distinct soil categories.

To assess functional interactions between soil community and mineralogy, Oribatid mites (Acari: Oribatida) will be observed in a microcosm experiment. Soils of varying calcium content will be used to monitor a key biological vector of nutrient cycling within soils typical of highland areas in the UK. The output of the project is aimed at improving soil management in the context of upland restoration practices. An enhanced understanding of the ecological processes associated with upland soils and their functioning will support critical reforestation and carbon capture initiatives in line with national targets over the next decade and beyond.



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