Prof Richard Bardgett (Richard’s University profile)
Prof David Johnson (David’s University profile)
Dr Franciska De Vries (Franciska’s University profile)
Dr Marina Semchenko (Marina’s University profile)
Dr Ellen Fry
Dr Jocelyn Lavallee
Dr Angela Straathof
Dr Irene Cordero
Dr Helen Snell
Dr Mathilde Chomel
Xubing Liu (Aberdeen)
Fiona Fraser (Aberdeen)
Sabine Both (Aberdeen)
Tom Parker (Heriot Watt)

Technical staff

Deborah Ashworth
Dr James Pritchard
Holly Langridge
Dr Ully Kritzler
Heather Stott
Helen Shaw
Joshua Harrop

PhD students

Melanie Edgar
Hayley Craig
Cristina Heredia Acuña
Christopher Sweeney
Reuben Margerison
Conor Hope
José Van Paassen (Aberdeen Uni)
Aqilah Mustafa Bakray (Aberdeen Uni)
Mike Ogden (Aberdeen Uni)
Jenny Slater (James Hutton Institute)
Matthew Guy (Stirling University)
Peggy Ehrlich (James Hutton Institute)
Jill Mayberry (Aberdeen Uni)

Past staff and students

Beth Brockett (Lancaster University)
Andy Cole (Lancaster University)
Dr Jonathan De Long
Amy Hall
Jacob Hargreaves (Aberdeen Uni)
Dr Jennifer Rhymes
Dr Maarten Schrama


Field sites

Colt Park Meadows, Ingleborough

Colt Park MeadowsTo the north of Manchester is an extensive area of carboniferous limestone known as the Yorkshire Dales. The area has been farmed for centuries and, as a result, the landscape is composed of a mosaic of species rich meadows, upland grassland and moorland on higher ground. Ingelborough National Nature Reserve is typical of this area, and provides us with a range of habitats for our research. However, most of our research has been focused on a long-term grassland diversity restoration experiment at Colt Park, set up in 1989 by Roger Smith of Newcastle University. We have been using the site to test how grassland diversity restoration influences ecosystem services, especially the storage of carbon in soil, and how soil biota influence plant diversity restoration. We are currently exploring how grassland diversity restoration influences the resistance of soil processes to drought, which is likely to become more frequent in this area.

DIGFOR UK grassland network

Ghyll Foot FarmAs part of a Defra funded project, DIGFOR, we established a large-scale network of 180 grasslands across England, covering different grassland and soil types, and levels of management intensity, ranging from unimproved, traditionally low intensity management, to low-moderate intensity management, to agriculturally improved intensively managed grassland. We have used this network to determine how land management regulates soil microbial communities and ecosystem processes across grassland types, and to determine the role of plant traits as drivers of microbial communities at the landscape level. We are currently using a sub-set of these grasslands as part of a EU funded project called EcoFinders, to test how land management influences soil food web complexity.

Glacier forelands

Glacier ForelandThe forelands of retreating glaciers provide an ideal natural laboratory to study how plant and soil communities develop over time. To this end, we have been using a range of glacier forelands in the European Alps to test how microbial communities develop and gain resources during primary succession, and how changes in microbial community composition during succession impact on nutrient cycling. Sites include the Odenwinkelkees and Rootmos Glaciers in the Austrian Alps, and the Damma Glacier in Switzerland.

Moor House National Nature Reserve

Moor House National Nature ReserveWe have a long tradition of carrying out research on blanket peat at Moor House National Nature Reserve, in the North Pennines, England. The site is cold and wet, with a mean annual temperature of about 6°C and mean annual rainfall of 2012 mm, and the peat is covered by heathland vegetation dominated by Calluna vulgaris.

Our main research interest here is to understand how land use and climate change influence peatland carbon dynamics. We use two field experiments at this site. The first is a long term grazing and burning experiment, which was set up in 1954, and the other a factorial plant removal and climate change experiment, which was set up in 2009. Using this experiment, we recently discovered that changes in vegetation composition alter the impact of climate warming on greenhouse gas emissions from peatland.

Selside Meadows

Selside MeadowsIn 2012, we established a new field experiment at Selside meadows, close to Colt Park in the Yorkshire Dales. The experiment was set up on a species-poor, agriculturally improved grassland, and involved sowing a range of plots with different mixtures of plant species to test how various trait assemblages impact soil carbon sequestration. The ultimate aim of the work, which is funded by BBSRC, is to determine optimal grassland communities for carbon storage and the stability of carbon fluxes under climate change.

Field sites


The Soil and Ecosystem Ecology Laboratory was established in 2013 in the Faculty of Life Sciences (now Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health), The University of Manchester, and includes newly purchased, state of the art facilities for analysis of a range of nutrients, greenhouse gases, root traits, soil physical and chemical properties, and microbial community composition and diversity in soil.

Extensive plant growth facilities are available at Firs Field Station, which is about two miles from the main University campus, and a range of controlled environment chambers are also available with the Faculty.

The Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health has an unrivalled range of analytical facilities that are available to all staff and students. All facilities are maintained by dedicated and highly trained staff, and include state-of-the-art facilities for genomics, bioinformatics and bioimaging.


About us

A major motivation of our research is to better understand the role of interactions between plant and soil communities in regulating the structure and function of terrestrial ecosystems, and their response to global change.

We aim to develop a mechanistic and conceptual understanding of how:

  1. plant species and their traits influence soil biodiversity and ecosystem processes;
  2. soil biodiversity influences nutrient cycling and plant community dynamics;
  3. these interactions are affected by, and can potentially mitigate, climate change.

We also apply these concepts to the development of sustainable management options for agriculture, biodiversity and the delivery of ecosystem services, especially carbon sequestration and efficient nutrient cycling. The Soil and Ecosystem Ecology Group recently moved form Lancaster to Manchester, and is supported by funds from NERC, BBSRC, the Royal Society, the British Ecological Society, the EU, and Defra. We welcome enquiries from those interested in joining the group.

For more details, see Research.

About us

The root to stability – the role of plant roots in ecosystem response to climate change


Agriculture is facing the challenge of producing food for a burgeoning world population in a sustainable way, under current and future threats of a changing climate. Grasslands cover a large part of the UK and provide many functions, including plant production for grazing, hay, and silage, carbon (C) storage, nitrogen (N) retention, greenhouse gas mitigation, and biodiversity, which underpin the ecosystem services of sustainable food production and climate mitigation. Increased temperatures and extreme events, such as drought, can severely affect ecosystems and their functioning, and we need to understand the factors that determine the stability of communities and ecosystems under climate change to secure the delivery of these ecosystem services.

Most of the research in this area has focussed on aboveground responses of plant communities, but evidence is emerging that belowground components of ecosystems, such as plant roots and soil organisms, are as strongly affected by climate extremes as aboveground components. It is widely proposed that root exudates are major drivers of the response of ecosystems to climate change, and it has been suggested that they are the key to increased soil C sequestration, but experimental evidence for this is remarkably rare.

This BBSRC funded project aims to elucidate how plant roots, via their root traits and root exudates, modify short-term and long-term ecosystem response – plant and microbial community composition and C and N cycling – to drought and warming. We will focus on the response of plant roots and their exudates to drought and warming, and the consequences for microbial community composition and activity, with knock-on effects for C and N cycling and plant community composition.

The root to stability – the role of plant roots in ecosystem response to climate change

Responses of ecosystem properties to elevation in contrasting mountain systems

EU – BiodivERsa

This project aims to determine if there are consistent trends in ecosystem properties, especially measures of the relative availability of N and P, as elevation increases both below and above treelines, and across the tree-line transition zone. As part of a global experiment, this is being tested using a series of replicated transects that span montane treelines on multiple continents. The project is led by David Wardle with collaborators Aimee Classen, Nate Sanders, Sandra Lavorel, and Maja Sundqvist, among others. For more details, see: Dr Jordan R Mayor.

Responses of ecosystem properties to elevation in contrasting mountain systems