Nick aims to improve scientific understanding of the role of plant-soil biodiversity interactions on ecosystem ecology and biogeochemistry. His research expertise is the application of novel approaches to determine the effects and feedbacks of global change, climate and land use, on terrestrial ecosystems. These ecosystems include peatlands, European grasslands and agricultural lands, boreal and tropical forests.
His research interests lie in the examination of the effects of global change on soil-plant CNP macronutrient cycles, ecosystem biogeochemistry, soil-landscape greenhouse gas exchanges, mitigation of rising CO2, CH4 and N2O emissions, and the measurement and management of terrestrial carbon sequestration in natural, agricultural and land based renewable energy systems.
Nick is a recognised expert in the combined use of 13C and 15N stable isotopes and 14C dating, greenhouse gas measurements, carbon dynamics, and soil microbial molecular techniques.
His research highlights include:
- novel understanding of the role of biotic regulators, including enzymes, as a ‘latch’ on global peatland carbon stores
- the development of novel isotope probing technologies to causally link plant carbon dynamics with soil carbon sequestration
- the establishment of a theoretical framework for the inclusion of plant-soil science into global carbon models
- the provision of scientific evidence to influence future sustainable soil management in the UK
Nick has received funding for his research from:
- the National Environmental Research Council (NERC)
- the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
- the Department for International Development (DFID)
- the European Union (EU)
- the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
Nick has published over 100 papers and book chapters, including papers in leading journals such as Nature and Science. His expertise in soil carbon sequestration led to an invitation to contribute evidence to the UK Government’s Chief Scientists Foresights Report on ‘Land Use Futures’ (https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/land-use-futures) with a review of ‘UK land Use Change and Soil Carbon Sequestration’. He contributed a chapter on ‘Climate change and soil biotic carbon cycling’ for a 2012 book on Soil Ecology and Ecosystem Services, Oxford University Press (http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199688166.do).
Recent and current research
- A NERC-funded Human Modified Tropical Forest project ‘BALI’ to study the effects of logging and clearing on forest plant and soil biodiversity and ecosystem biogeochemical function across gradients and experiments in Malaysian Borneo.
- A NERC-funded project ‘Boreal N Gap’ investigating forest floor feather moss and cyanobacteria nitrogen fixation in Swedish Boreal forests.
- A NERC-funded project on ‘Elevated CO2 and UV effects on Arctic Tundra heath carbon sequestration’ in Abisko, Sweden.
- A NERC-funded project ‘Respiration in the Andes’ to measure the effects of climate change on soil microbial diversity and function across a 3000m elevation gradient in Peru.
- A NERC-funded project ‘WESSEX BESS’ on carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions in chalk grasslands in the UK.
- A BBSRC-funded project ‘ECOTRAITS’ examining the role of grassland plant traits and diversity as regulators of soil functions including carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas (CO2, CH4 and N2O) emissions in the UK.
- A BBSRC-funded China Partnering Award exploring ‘Soil bioscience for sustainable food security’
- DEFRA-funded research into ‘The effects of grip blocking on peatland methane emissions’.
Nick is a member of the Ecology and Conservation research grouping at Lancaster. He supervises PhD students in a wide range of topics that broadly fall under the themes of plant-soil interactions and global change.
Current PhD projects include:
- Climate change controls on grassland microbial resistance and resilience
- Grassland plant diversity regulation of soil carbon sequestration
- Peatland plant functional types and climate warming effects on ecosystem greenhouse gas emissions
- Forest controls on methane emissions in tropical peatland
- The climate sensitivity of soil decomposition and microbial populations across Chinese altitudinal gradients
- Biochar and soil biodiversity effects on plant-soil carbon and nitrogen cycling
Nick’s teaching includes:
- Lecturing to undergraduate students as part of various LEC BSc degree schemes in Biology, Ecology and Environmental Science.
- Leading a module for 3rd year undergraduate and Master’s level students studying ‘Issues in Conservation Ecology’ for LEC’s MSc in Ecology and Conservation
- Contribution to a number of field visits including the BSc field trip to the Scottish Highlands.
- Supervision of Masters and Undergraduate Dissertation projects
Nick is currently: