Plant-soil science

Lead researcher

Leader of Soil-Plants Interaction Group

Caixian TangProfessor Caixian Tang

Professor, College of Science, Health and Engineering

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Soil degradation and nutrient deficiency in agro-ecosystems are widely recognised problems and major limiting factors for sustainable production in the current changing climate. Research in this group focuses on soil and nutrient management, soil-plant interactions (including rhizosphere biochemistry) and the impacts of climate change on soil processes. Interdisciplinary and multi-institutional research is a feature in these key research areas.

Major contributions of the group include:

  • understanding phosphorus acquisition by plants and transformation in agroecosystems
  • understanding cause of subsoil acidification
  • elucidating impacts of warming and elevated CO2 on nutrient cycles
  • developing new management options to ameliorate subsoil constraints.

This research group is financially supported by Australian Research Council (ARC), Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and other funding bodies, and collaborates extensively with other organisations in Victoria, nationally and internationally.

Climate change and nutrient dynamics

Future changes in climate are expected to have significant impacts on plant productivity and nutrient cycling within a range of ecosystems. Our research investigates the effect of increased atmospheric CO2 on agricultural production systems and the effect of experimental warming on nutrient availability in the Victorian Alps.

Soil acidification

Soil acidification is a widespread land degradation issue. Our research aims to understand the cause of subsoil acidification in agroecosystems. Biological amelioration through managing excess anion (nitrate) uptake appears to be a promising method to ameliorate subsoil acidity. Our current focus is to understand the relationship between soil acidification and soil carbon in farming systems.

Rhizosphere and phosphorus acquisition

Global phosphorus reserves are finite and will deplete in the medium term. The use of crop species that can access the soil phosphorus (P) pools will reduce P fertiliser use and improve P-use efficiency. Our recent findings indicate that plant P acquisition from soil P pools depends on crop species, soil type, P fertilizer history and N form.


Phytoremediation is the use of plants to remove contaminants from the soil. We study the mechanisms used by plants to take up heavy metals from contaminated soils and how agronomic methods enhance hyperaccumulation.