Marco is a soil ecologist, researching what is going on below the surface.
In particular Marco investigates how different agricultural practices, for example cover crops different tilling techniques or fertilisers affect the soil organisms and what the consequences are on soil health.
All processes in soil are mediated, catalysed or directly provided by soil fauna; from earthworms, down to bacteria. The trophic chain under the soil is as complex as the one above the soil and up into the atmosphere. By enhancing our understanding of this really complex trophic chain, we might one day be able to engineer soil communities by adopting suitable agricultural practices, so that we are enhancing, not degrading soil.
Soil organisms can do everything that traditional agricultural practices can do. They can; open up the soil, improve the structure, improve infiltration, improve resistance to erosion, balance pH and nutrients levels, make nutrients available to plants when the plant needs it, and even provide weed control and pest control.
Understanding how all this works is the first step. Once we understand it, we can think about how to engineer it and reduce our reliance on inorganic fertiliser and aggressive cultivation techniques, so there is an economic benefit and environmental benefits.
Marco’s research takes place directly in the field, at Church Farm, Morley and at farm sites in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. By doing plant research in the field, you have a lot of variation, such as weather patterns, temperature, agricultural practices, so isolating different effects is difficult and requires advanced techniques. The benefit is that unlike with lab-generated findings, even a minor advance that you can identify in the field is directly and immediately applicable.