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Congratulations to Jumpei Fukumasu for winning the 2015 BSSS MSc Dissertation Award for his dissertation on ‘Is there a stronger relationship between N-acquiring extracellular enzyme activity and nitrogen mineralization in disaggregated soils than in aggregated soils?’, supervised by Dr Liz Shaw (presenting the award).

Excellent work, Jumpei!  Competition this year was particularly tough, with many excellent nominations from students who achieved a distinction in their dissertation module.  Well done to all our students for their fantastic research.  We wish all of them the best of luck with their future career and thank them for their hard work and dedicated whilst at Reading.

BSSS-dissprize-2015

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Congratulations to the winners of the annual Soil Research Centre Photo Competition! We had a fantastic range of entries this year, which you can view at the album here.

First Prize

Jackie Stroud: Earthworm in action!  Earthworm feeding at night on surface organic matter (crop residues)

First Prize - Jackie Stroud

First Prize – Jackie Stroud

Second Prize

Ian Davenport: In arid and semi-arid regions, cyanobacteria use light and water to grow filaments that bind soil particles together, forming a crust that helps to prevent erosion.  Photo from Diamantina, Australia.

Ian Davenport, Second Prize

Ian Davenport, Second Prize

Highly Commended

Rob Jackson: Banana plantation: Reading, Medellin and UMass Dartmouth student team sampling soil along a transect in a Colombian banana plantation to discover novel biocontrol bacteria

Rob Jackson, Highly Commended

Rob Jackson, Highly Commended

Erika Degani: Sampling earthworms at UoR Sonning Farm as part of a PhD project assessing the relationships between crop rotations, biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services

Erika Degani, Highly Commended

Erika Degani, Highly Commended

Well done to all!

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‘Are we looking after our soils?’

Chris presents to the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee

Chris presents to the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee

As soon as you enter the House of Commons you get a buzz. There are lots of people engaged in conversation and the sense of being at the centre of government is palpable. The further you enter into the myriad of rooms you can understand the huge expense that will be involved in any refurbishment.

We are in committee room 19, but there are many other meetings indicated on the display boards and you realise the difficulty any campaign will have making an impact.   The presentations go down really well; I focus on the biological variability of soils and the problems of establishing robust soil health indicators as well as introducing the Soil Security Programme. Jack Hennan from Cranfield University describes the physical variability of soils and the limitations of national monitoring. The final speaker is Helen Browning from the Soil Association who presents seven ways we can improve soils.

After drinks about twenty of us have a sit down dinner and Stephen Metcalfe MP the Chairman of the Parliamentary and Science Committee opens the debate ‘Are we looking after our soil’. After 30 minutes of vigorous conversation where a number of soil threats are highlighted (e.g. growing unsuitable crops such as maize, the problems of sustainable management associated with short term tenancies), we search for a single action to recommend.  A commitment to increase organic matter in arable fields by 20% is proposed by Helen Browning. While we can all see pitfalls in this we recognise it as a clear ambition that will have a beneficial outcome.

 

See Professor Chris Collins’ staff profile

Visit the Soil Security Programme website

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We’re looking for a Research Fellow in Soil Biodiversity to join our team – check out the link for more information on the role and details on how to apply!

http://bit.ly/1XvVTsr

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Sarah Duddigan poses with tea bags-smThis week University of Reading and Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) PhD student Sarah Duddigan has been filmed for an Austrian children’s science TV programme, talking about her contribution to a decomposition rate citizen science project, known as the Tea Bag Index – UK.

The Tea Bag Index is a novel method to measure decomposition rate in soil. Decomposition (the breakdown of organic material into its smaller constituents) is an important process for the release of nutrients into soil for plants to use. Therefore gaining a better understanding of decomposition in soil will be of great value to gardeners in the UK. The method is simple, UK participants are recruited through the RHS and posted some tea bags to bury in their garden. After three months they dig them up and send them back, along with a soil sample.

Decomposition of organic matter (i.e. dead plant and animal remains) in soils is an important process in any ecosystem.

Decomposer microorganisms feed on the organic matter and break it down into its simplest components. As organic matter is decomposed, water, carbon dioxide and nutrients are released. Meaning that, any excess nutrients are released and are available for plants to use to grow.

Maintaining a healthy and vibrant garden is the aspiration of most gardeners and healthy fertile soil is a key component of this. Therefore, a better understanding of decomposition rates in garden soils will be of great value to gardeners across the UK.

While having an active microbial population decomposing organic matter is important for soil health, they are not without their problems. While organic matter is decomposing, it releases the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. A fast decay leads to more CO2 in the atmosphere and slow decay could lead to a greater proportion of carbon remaining in the soil. It is estimated that soils store a gigantic 2,300 billion tons of carbon worldwide; triple the amount than all the worlds plants. Therefore in order to gain a better understanding of global CO2 emissions from soils it is vital to know more about the rate of decomposition.

The data from the UK therefore can also be combined with data being collected across Europe (or across the world in fact) in order to gain a better understanding on the role of decomposition in global carbon emissions and the contribution to climate change.

This seems to be a contradiction, on the one hand decomposition is good for plant health, but on the other has the potential to contribute to climate change. This is why projects such as this, which aim to gain a better understanding of decomposition rates in soil, are so important.

For more information, and updates on the progress of the project, see the links below:
Website: www.teabagindexuk.wordpress.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/teabagindexuk

Twitter: www.twitter.com/TeaBagIndexUK

@TeaBagIndexUK

#TeaBagIndexUK

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Congratulations to Chris Moorin, winner of the 2014 British Society of Soil Science MSc Dissertation Prize!

Chris’ dissertation was on ‘the impact of different organic amendments on potentially toxic element (PTE) bioavailability in soils and the possible evolutionary adaptation of Common Bentgrass (Agrostis capillaris L.) to high PTE concentrations’, supervised by Dr Denise Lambkin. The Award was presented at the 2014 Winter Graduation ceremony by Dr Joanna Clark.

Excellent work, Chris!  Very well done to all our students for their excellent dissertation projects.

Graduation Dec 2014 (8) Chris Moorin-001

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Today Dr Tom Sizmur and Dr Martin Lukac  planted Rowan trees at Badgemore Primary School in Henley-on-Thames and St Teresas Catholic Primary School in Wokingham.

The trees were supplied by the British Society of Soil Science (BSSS) and the planting is part of a national event to mark Worlds Soils Day and the launch of the International Year of Soils in 2015

BSSS is looking to raise awareness of the importance of soils, celebrate our soils, catalyse initiatives and provide a modern perspective of soil science as well as marking the start of the road to the 2022 World Congress of Soil Science which the UK will be hosting in Glasgow in August 2022.

SONY DSC

Photo of Tom with members of Laurel class and their teacher Hannah Rowlinson at Badgemore Primary School.

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