Ecosystem response to disturbances: Implications for greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient cycling.

This program will provide a framework for understanding the impact of climate and anthropogenic disturbance on ecosystem nutrient cycles and associated greenhouse gas emissions. Research is focused on understanding the microbial populations responsible for the terrestrial component of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, with breakthrough technologies being used to address key issues relating to how ecosystems are regulated by the functioning of microorganisms. In addition, it presents the opportunity to study ecosystems of international importance to Australia’s position within global economies (China) and international stewardship (Arctic).

The overall aim of this research is to advance scientific understanding of how the microbial  ecology responsible for ecosystem function responds to climate and anthropogenic disturbances. This requires study of the mechanisms for soil-microbial-plant interactions that regulate the cycling of carbon, nutrients and the associated greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O).

The three related programs of activity are:

  • Management of microorganisms to unlock the phosphorus bank in soil. Aim: to study the mechanistic basis of rhizosphere strategies for enhancing phosphorus use within farming systems. The expected outcomes are to provide the agricultural sector with management options that harness soil microorganisms to unlock part of the 10 billion dollars worth of fixed P in Australian soils
  • Determine mechanisms of carbon storage and greenhouse gas emissions from soil. Aim: define how carbon and water availability regulate the diversity and function of the soil microbial communities responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. This will lead to improved farming systems management to maximise carbon sequestratio
  • Natural systems as models to study climate and anthropogenic disturbance. Aim: identify the environmental stressors for critical ecosystem pathways that need to be monitored with respect to disturbance. Here the Arctic is used as a nitrogen-limited model ecosystem of a water-limited cold desert to contrast the semi-arid environment of Western Australia


  • Professor Davey Jones, Bangor University
  • Dr Elizabeth Stockdale, Newcastle University
  • Mr Nick Cox, NERC Arctic base manager
  • Dr Christina Kaiser, University of Vienna
  • Professor Minggang Xu, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences