Understanding and Mapping belowground functional biogeography

The aim of this project is to increase our understanding of the drivers of the geographical distribution of soil organism traits or functional diversity at continental and national scale. By analyzing a large European database and employing digital soil mapping we will study the impact of soil forming factors on nematode functional diversity across Europe. Additionally, a field campaign in the Netherlands will further explore the impact of land use on belowground functional diversity.

Introduction and Background 

Agricultural production is dependent on soil functions provided by soil biota (i.e., nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, water regulation, disease suppression, and primary production). Land use intensification has caused a decline in belowground biodiversity, which may result in a loss of these soil functions. Accurate predictions of soil functions and the impact of land management are important for the development of policy aimed at maintaining and restoring soil functions. In order to predict soil functions across the heterogeneous landscapes of Europe an increased understanding of the drivers of belowground biogeography, is needed. Research has shown that functional diversity, rather than species diversity, is an important predictor of soil functions. Therefore, shifting the focus from biogeography to functional biogeography could facilitate the link to soil functions. Nematodes are present throughout the soil food-web and can thus function as indicators for soil food-web dynamics and belowground functional diversity. 

Project description  

This project aims to increase our understanding of the natural and anthropogenic drivers of the spatial distribution of soil functional diversity at continental and national scale. I will use open-source databases to study the link between soil forming factors and nematode functional diversity across Europe.  Subsequently, I will use digital soil mapping approaches to study the geographical distribution of nematode functional diversity. Lastly, I will perform a nationwide field campaign across the Netherlands to study the effects of land use, land use intensity, and land use history on the functional diversity of soil biota.