DCU researchers in the School of Chemical Sciences and the Insight Centre for Data Analytics have joined forces to quite literally dig for solutions to counteract climate issues including biodiversity loss and rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
Marking World Soil Day (Thursday, December 5th) researchers including Dr Blánaid White, DCU’s School of Chemical Sciences, Dr Alan Lee, Dr Brian Kelleher, Dr Margaret McCaul along with PhD student Anthony Grey are currently working on a range of projects exploring the effects of biodiversity loss and effects on the ecosystem. Ecosystem functions and biodiversity are critical to maintaining soil health, and good soil health is paramount to support the agriculture industry.
Dr White and Dr Alan Lee are collaborating on the Farm-Ecos project funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, with the duo focussing on the crucial piece of the jigsaw which is the health of Irish soils.
The Farm-Ecos project investigates the extent of soil health in Irish soils which are farmed using different management practices.
This investigation of soil health, along with the other components of the Farm-Ecos project which examine habitat quality and landscape connectivity, will enable the building of an evidence base for novel, cost- effective measures to protect and enhance farmland biodiversity.
Identified measures will increase habitat quantity, enhance habitat quality and improve ecological connectivity, from the farm to landscape scale. Measures will thus help enhance the provision of ecosystem services and halt devastating biodiversity loss.
Speaking about the research, Dr Blánaid White, DCU’s School of Chemical Sciences said:
"It can take 1000 years to form an inch of soil, but healthy soil is crucial for our food, our biodiversity and our future.
We need to understand how healthy Irish soils are and how best we can protect and enhance our soils for us and for future generations.
Farm-Ecos is is an exciting project because it looks to develop our understanding of where we are now, but also how best to develop in a way that is both sustainable and cost effective."
In addition to the Farm-Ecos project, PhD student, Anthony Grey is working with supervisors, Dr Brian Kelleher and Dr Margaret McCaul (Insight Centre for Data Analytics) to understand how soil microbes can store more or less carbon, depending on environmental conditions.
If researchers can harness this, in turn, it is possible to store more carbon in soil and remove carbon from the atmosphere - to aid in the fight against climate change.
The contribution of soil microbes to carbon sequestration has long been underestimated. In this Irish Research Council project, it has been shown that polymers produced by soil microbes are a major conduit for carbon storage and change composition very quickly in response to environmental conditions.
The work has been carried out on the "blue carbon" soils of Bull Island soils.