Using Critical Zone Science to Enhance Soil Fertility and Sustain Ecosystem Services for Peri-Urban Agriculture in China

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Biological Sciences


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Planned Impact

Impact Summary
This project develops a closely integrated project between research teams in the UK and China that directly addresses the following sustainable development challenges of China.

1. Economic development through innovation in agricultural practices
2. Food security through improved agricultural yields on existing productive land
3. Food safety through decreases in plant available soil contaminants
4. Water quality protection and improvement through reduced soil pollution
5. Wellbeing of urban inhabitants through peri-urban land management
6. Ecological resilience of agricultural production to environmental change
7. Meeting environmental commitments through reduced greenhouse gas emissions from land
8. Agricultural nutrient resource recovery from animal and human food consumption
9. The environmental impacts of urbanisation

The project addresses the challenges effectively by linking the research activities with innovation in farming practices through field manipulation experiments that act as testbeds and demonstrations for the use of organic fertilisers. The project addresses the challenges efficiently by focusing on the role of soil as a central control point within the integrated Critical Zone (CZ) system where positive changes in managing soil fertility can influence multiple beneficial outcomes to the development challenges. Efficiency of research investment is gained by drawing on the current investment in staff and infrastructure by the principal China partner (IUE) at the site and through collaboration with the Zhejiang Academy of Sciences Agricultural Institute in Ningbo city. The programme of impact activities includes strong UK & China stakeholders & performance metrics for immediate & long-term impact are defined. UK strengths in novel, high throughput molecular tools for soil food web dynamics will be applied with the Chinese investigators at the Ningbo CZO. This will provide the scientific evidence on how in organic fertiliser application will impact the soil N-cycle and can be pro-actively managed to improve yields and long-term soil fertility for food security. UK strengths in novel isotope biogeochemistry will be carried out jointly with the Chinese partners and will provide the scientific evidence to optimise soil management practices that reduce toxic metals uptake to food crops, to improve food safety. UK strengths for in situ quantitative analysis of emerging contaminants will develop novel biosensor technology and deploy it in the manipulation experiments in China. This will provide the scientific evidence for soil management practices to reduce the flux of contaminants to surface and groundwater. This will protect & improve water quality & help reduce the occurrence of environmental antibiotic resistance. UK strengths in mechanistic soil process modelling that is integrated with CZ flux determinations will be applied to interpret the results of the field manipulation experiments. The modelling will provide the scientific evidence to guide practice in organic fertiliser use to potentially benefit: crop yields, soil and water quality, ecological resilience to atmospheric deposition of urban contaminants, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions from land. Additional impacts include the potential for improved yields to help livelihoods and reduce poverty in farming communities. Joint design and delivery of manipulation experiments with farmers will support early identification and adoption of improved soil management practices. Organic fertilisers increase soil organic matter content which improves soil pore structure through aggregate formation. This increases plant-available water-holding capacity for drought resilience, & increases interaggregate water drainage for flood resilience. Reduced mineral fertiliser use will cut the life-cycle costs of the carbon footprint of manufacturing, greenhouse gas emissions from land, & increased water pollution from nutrient leaching.


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