Soils and Enzymes

by Ed Tripp, University of Nottingham

Results from Results

One good thing about research is that new ideas can come from data collected earlier in the project. The heather experiments that I did right at the start of my project yielded some nice data about nitrogen and phosphorus uptake by the heather plants. So what was so interesting about this data? Well, it seemed that if nitrogen uptake by a plant increased with atmospheric nitrogen deposition, phosphorus uptake seemed to increase in exactly the same way across all heathlands studied. As phosphorus isn't deposited in the same way as nitrogen, these seemed like some unusual results.

There could be any number of reasons for these results. One possibility is that there is something in the soil that is upregulating phosphorus uptake by heather in relation to increased nitrogen deposition. There are a number of enzymes in the soil that could be doing just this, including a group of enzymes called phosphatases. These enzymes work in exactly the same way as enzymes in our own digestive system. They break down phosphorus in the soil to make it available to plants.

This sounded like an interesting hypothesis to investigate. But to do this I need fresh soil from all of my 26 heathland sites. Back into the field then! Five months of travelling from Scotland to Lundy Island, from Norfolk to Northumberland. Same story as before: get on my hands and knees, dig up soil with a trowel, sieve in the field, and bring back to the lab for analysis.

No hiccups so far, except of course for the major snow that we had late last year, which stopped things for a couple of weeks. I will have to wait until April to see if my results show anything interesting, weather permitting. Here's hoping!

In the meantime, here is another video of me collecting soil in Sherwood Forest.