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Plant Nutrients and Biogeochemistry


Staff: involved:

Professor Mary Scholes

Research Interests
Over the last five years I have focussed my research in three main areas. These activities include:

  1. Improving the productivity and sustainability of South African plantation forests and natural savanna ecosystems by applying ecosystem based scientific approaches,
  2. Improving the understanding, at the process level, of the factors controlling trace gas emissions from soils and vegetation and the extrapolation of these data to the Southern African region and globally,
  3. The development of a strong, cohesive postgraduate school and research network of national and international scientists in which I act as both a supervisor and advisor.

Specific topics: Biogeochemistry of savanna and plantation ecosystems. Controls on nitrogen, carbon and phosphorus cycling in savannas. Soil-root interactions, biological nitrogen fixation and mycorrhizae, nutrient acquisition and the rhizosphere. Sustainability of plantations in South Africa. Biogenic trace gas emissions, focusing on biosphere-atmosphere interactions. Tropical soil fertility, soil biological processes and sustainable agriculture. I usually have a postgraduate school of about 10-12 students, doing MSc and PhD degrees under my supervision. Projects for students are offered in the areas listed below. A

Co-operative Research Projects

Joint research projects with the following organizations:

Nutrient cycling and sustainability of plantations. Research work is ongoing with Sappi, Global Forest Products and the Institute for Commercial Forestry Research. This work forms part of a bilateral agreement with Sweden and funding is sourced from Sida and the NRF. Prof Sune Linder is my Swedish colleague.

I have been actively involved with the Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Programme, an Institute of the International Centre for Tropical Agricultural Research for the last 10 years. This programme aims at improving the sustainability of agriculture in tropical regions through an understanding of soil biological properties.

I am actively involved in nutrient cycling research in the Kruger National Park together with a number of national and international colleagues.

The Southern African Fire Atmosphere Research Initiative (SAFARI) in 1992 and 2000 was the start of collaboration with NASA, EPA (USA) and the Max Planck Institute (Mainz-Germany). These projects are all associated with improving the understanding of biogenic trace gas emissions and the modelling of these emissions on a regional scale.