Project Description

A full project description can be found on Find a PhD. Please see below for additional information about this project:

The Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI) LTS experiment (https://www.ecologicalcontinuitytrust.org/hillsborough-lts) has 8 nutrient treatments (unfertilised, fertilised, 3 different application rates of pig slurry, 3 different application rates of cow slurry). In addition, there is a plant species diversity treatment factor with half of the plots under permanent grassland and the other half have been reseeded with a mixture of 4 species (perennial ryegrass, plantain, chicory and white clover). Each combination of the plant species and nutrient treatments are replicated 3 times. These experimental plots were established in 1970 to measure the effect of organic (slurry) and inorganic (NPK) nutrient additions to grassland on the yield and mineral composition of herbage and chemical composition of the soil (Christie at al., 1989, Christie et al., 1992, Fornara et al., 2020a & 2020b, Jia et al., 2020). They offer an excellent research platform to better understand the effect of different animal slurries and fertiliser application on the relative abundance of high and low P adapted H. lanatus (Meharg et al., 1994, Meharg et al., 2014, Young et al., 2018), their rhizosphere microbiomes and how plant genetics/rhizosphere microbe/soil management interaction effects impact on plant uptake of toxic metals/metalloids, phosphate nutrition and other plant nutrient elements.

Essential skills

  • Undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences related subject
  • Relevant project work in Environmental Microbiology or Environmental Chemistry or Plant science or Bioinformatics

Desirable skills

  • Molecular biology, Bioinformatics, Analytical chemistry

Photo by Caroline Meharg.

Supervisors

Caroline Meharg

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Caroline Meharg
Email: caroline.meharg@qub.ac.uk
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Gareth Norton

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Gareth Norton
Email: g.norton@abdn.ac.uk
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Andrew Meharg

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Andrew Meharg
Email: aa.meharg@qub.ac.uk
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Additional Supervisor:

Dr. Jonathan Holland
https://www.ecologicalcontinuitytrust.org/hillsborough-lts
Sustainable Agri-Food Sciences Division
Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI)
Newforge Lane, BT9 5PX
Belfast, UK

Dr. Dario Fornara
https://www.scopus.com/authid/detail.uri?authorId=8290336200
https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5381-0803
https://www.ecologicalcontinuitytrust.org/hillsborough-lts
Sustainable Agri-Food Sciences Division
Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI)
Newforge Lane, BT9 5PX
Belfast, UK

References

1. Meharg AA, Bailey J, Breadmore K, Macnair MR, 1994. Biomass allocation, phosphorous nutrition and vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizal infection in clones of Yorkshire Fog, Holcus lanatus L. (Poaceae) that differ in their phosphate uptake kinetics and tolerance to arsenate. Plant Soil, 160:11–20.
2. Meharg C, Khan B, Norton G, Deacon C, Johnson D, Reinhardt R, et al, 2014. Trait-directed de novo population transcriptome dissects genetic regulation of a balanced polymorphism in phosphorus nutrition/arsenate tolerance in a wild grass, Holcus lanatus. New Phytol, 201:144–54.
3. Young E., Carey M., Meharg A.A. et al. 2018. Microbiome and ecotypic adaption of Holcus lanatus (L.) to extremes of its soil pH range, investigated through transcriptome sequencing. Microbiome 6, 48.
4. Christie P., Beattie J. A. M., 1989. “Grassland Soil Microbial Biomass and Accumulation of Potentially Toxic Metals from Long-Term Slurry Application.” Journal of Applied Ecology, 26(2): 597–612.
5. Christie P., Kilpatric D.J. 1992. Vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhiza infection in cut grassland following long-term slurry application. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 24( 4):325-330
6. Fornara D.A., David Flynn D., Caruso T. 2020a. Improving phosphorus sustainability in intensively managed grasslands: The potential role of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Science of The Total Environment, 706:135744
7. Fornara D.A., David Flynn D., Caruso T. 2020b.  Effects of nutrient fertilization on root decomposition and carbon accumulation in intensively managed grassland soils. Ecosphere 11(4):2150-8925
8. JIA, Z., ZHOU X., XIA W., Fornara D.A., et al., 2020. Evidence for niche differentiation of nitrifying communities in grassland soils after 44 years of different field fertilization scenarios. Pedosphere, 30(1):87-97.

Impact

This project will use Holcus lanatus (L) as a model plant (Meharg et al., 1994, Meharg et al., 2014, Young et al., 2018) to better understand the interactions between pasture fertilisation treatments, plant polymorphism and rhizosphere microbes and how these impact on plant uptake of toxic metals/metalloids, phosphate nutrition and other plant nutrient elements. This study will give a unique insight into how plants and microbes act in cohort in the rhizosphere to mobilize P as the P-phenotypes are under single gene control , and thus all other genetic factors between phenotypes will be random. Given that P-fertilizer availability globally is at peak maximum, and will only decrease in future, if plant genes that act in consort with microbes to more efficiently extract P under low-P soil status, this will have widespread impact, and could be potentially used for breeding in cultivated monocots, both pasture and grain crops.

Proposed Timetable

Year 1 – Investigation of Holcus lanatus abundance in each plot, screening for Holcus lanatus polymorphism in each plot, collection of samples for chemical and molecular analysis
Year 2 –  DNA extraction/sequencing, chemical analysis, data analysis
Year 3 –  Data analysis, follow up analysis, write up

QUADRAT Themes

  • biodiversity
  • environmental-management

Partners

This project has a CASE Partnership collaboration with AFBI

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