Aarhus Universitets segl

Understanding the role of roots for sustainable nitrogen management

Main subject area: Plant-soil interactions, soil science, plant genotypes, and sustainable agriculture

Short project description

Domesticated crops yield more with high inputs of nitrogen (N) fertilizer. Yet, this practice is not efficient: a large fraction of the applied N is lost from the agroecosystem in the form of the powerful greenhouse gas nitrous oxide and as N-leaching. A new generation of crops with roots adapted to reduced fertilizer inputs is necessary to develop a more sustainable agriculture. Using barley as model system, this project will identify root traits that increase plant N uptake and reduce N losses in a context of low fertilizer inputs. We will use domesticated, wild, and mutant varieties of barley in a greenhouse experiment to maximize within-species root trait variation. This will allow us to establish a mechanistic understanding of the links between plant traits, soil microbial communities and N dynamics. The results of this project will point the way towards a climate-smart (re)domestication of current plant genotypes.

Department and supervisor

Project start


Physical location of project and students work

Department of Agroecology, AU Viborg, 8830 Tjele

Extent and type of project

45 ECTS: Experimental theses in which the student is responsible for collection and analysis of his/her own original data.

60 ECTS: Experimental theses in which the student is responsible for planning, trial design and collection and analysis of his/her own original data.

Additional information

The master project will be connected to the Sapere Aude project titled ‘Redefining a plant ideotype to reduce nitrogen pollution’, with co-supervision from PhD candidate Marvin Daniel Eguizabal Garcia.

Useful reading

Abalos, D., Groenigen, J. W., Philippot, L., Lubbers, I. M., & De Deyn, G. B. (2019). Plant trait-based approaches to improve nitrogen cycling in agroecosystems. Journal of Applied Ecology, 56(11), 2454–2466. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.13489

Bardgett, R. D., Mommer, L., & De Vries, F. T. (2014). Going underground: root traits as drivers of ecosystem processes. Trends in ecology & evolution, 29(12), 692–699. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2014.10.006