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This page is no longer updated. The Macaulay Land Use Research Institute joined forces with SCRI joined forces on 1 April 2011 to create The James Hutton Institute. Please visit the James Hutton Institute website.

Wednesday 19th June 2024

Structure & function of soil ecosystems


Many of the functions and environmental benefits of soils are reliant on the diverse communities of organisms present within them, their activities and the interactions between them.

Sustainable management of soils to maintain ecological functions requires improved understanding of how soil biodiversity is affected by changes in land management and climate, and how these changes impact on the wide range of beneficial soil functions.

Current projects

  • To develop stable isotope and molecular biology methods to track and accurately quantify carbon fluxes into, through and out of soils.
  • To characterise soil food web interactions, identify functionally important organisms and establish their role in nutrient cycling processes in intensive arable and low-input mixed rotation farming systems.
  • The impacts of applying composted organic matter on soil biodiversity and soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics (particularly greenhouse gas emissions) in intensive arable and low-input mixed farming systems.
  • The importance of soil physical structure for biological processes and the balance of greenhouse gas production and consumption.
  • The longer-term consequences of organic additions for overall soil quality by integrating biological, chemical and physical impacts.


  • Improved knowledge of the factors influencing the structure and activities of soil communities in different farming systems and impacts on soil nutrient cycling.
  • Development of reliable methods for quantification of carbon fluxes in different farming systems, to support in improved management of soil organic matter.
  • Practical guidelines and recommendations on measures for the protection and enhancement of soil biodiversity and associated ecological processes.


  • Bryan Griffiths, The James Hutton Insitute
  • Eric Paterson, The James Hutton Insitute
Soil structure pic