Colt Park Meadows, Ingleborough
To 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
As 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.
The 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
We 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.
In 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.