Soil nutrient cycling

Last changed: 10 June 2021
A man with a cap in a large hole in the ground, photo.

In the context of global food and water security, current concerns of climate change and environmental degradation, soil functioning plays a crucial role. Therefore, our research focuses on furthering our understanding of complex process-interactions from the microbial soil habitat scale to the field-scale.

Soils store, modulate the release of, and cycle nutrients required for plant growth. They are one of the most complex systems on Earth. Nutrient cycling in soil is mediated by multifaceted, inseparable interactions among biological, chemical and physical dynamics.

Important soil interactions

These interactions result in remarkable spatial heterogeneity across scales of many orders of magnitude over timescales that range from seconds to millennia. Our research focuses on furthering our understanding of complex process-interactions from the microbial soil habitat scale to the field-scale.

Soils are fundamental to all human civilizations: they underpin the delivery of a wide range of life-supporting ecosystem goods and services. In the context of global food and water security, current concerns of climate change and environmental degradation, soil functioning plays a crucial role.

More efficient agriculture

The rapidly growing world population is putting pressure on food supply. Agriculture therefore needs to adopt practices for efficient use of nutrients to ensure food security while minimizing negative impacts on agroecosystems, thus making these practises sustainable in the long‐term. Therefore, the sustainable management of nutrient cycling in agricultural systems is a matter of increasing importance to society and is key to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

Our research themes

  • Soil organic matter
  • Precision agriculture
  • Soil plant interactions
  • Plant nutrition & circular production

Pedometrics and digital soil mapping

Pedometrics – to measure the soil. Photo: Maria Stenberg.

Our activities in this area deal with the production, management and presentation of high resolution spatial soil information. We develop new methods and strategies for soil mapping involving cost effective sensor technology. Specifically we focus on mathematical and statistical methods and strategies to translate sensor data to data describing soil variation and subsequently to create decision support systems for variable inputs.This includes studying how different sensor measurements are affected by soil properties and their interactions.

How data from different sensors and other information sources can be combined with each other and with prediction models for detailed decision support is also studied.

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Improved nutrient use efficiency and reduced nutrient losses

Here we sample the soil water at 80 cm deapth for nitrogen content. Photo: Lena Engström.

The objective of this area is to create knowledge as a basis for improved nutrient use efficiency in crop production. Fertilization must be adaptable to crop requirements, the nature of the fertilizer and soil functions. The focus here is on the capacity of soils to supply crops with nutrients, as well as the nutrient value of the preceding crop, the fertilizer effect of organic fertilizer and how these mechanisms interact with other factors and inputs such as water supply and plant protection.

In connection with this we also study plant nutrient losses in relation to soil properties, and crop and soil management strategies. Both gaseous nitrogen losses and leakage of nitrogen and phosphorus are studied.

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Biological soil mapping with an emphasis on land pathogens

Club-root in oil seed rape. Photo: Anders Jonsson.

In this area we identify and quantify soil biological factors that hamper crop growth. Molecular biological strategies with a focus on terrestrial pathogens are developed. The objectives are to find detection methods, use them to determine the presence at different levels of damage in crops and to develop prediction models to assess the risk of attacks in different crop rotations. Physical and chemical properties of soil affect the spatial pathogens distribution.

In addition to classical chemical analyses we investigate the use of different ground sensors, such as soil electrical conductivity (ECa) sensors, to explain and predict infection variation.

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Contact

Anke Herrmann, associate professor
Department of Soil and Environment, SLU
anke.herrmann@slu.se, +46 18-671561, +46 768588982

Page editor: cajsa.lithell@slu.se