Dr Jen Wood, a soil microbial ecologist and leader in her field, has been awarded $333,680 from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry as part of the National Agriculture Traceability Grants Program – Sustainability Reporting Uplift.
Trailblazing in microbial soil research, her project ‘harnessing soil microbial traits to benchmark soil health for sustainability reporting,’ aims to address a critical gap in the agricultural industry. While demand for sustainability is growing, there are no established standards around soil health, leaving growers without a framework to demonstrate sustainable soil management practices. Dr Wood is an expert in understanding the functional traits of microbial communities and will use these funds to tackle the challenge of defining a ‘healthy' soil microbial community for sustainability reporting.
“Soil microbes are drivers of soil health. They are ideal for benchmarking health and sustainability practices because they are responsive to change their function and can be used to project soil health into the future,” said Dr Wood.
"All microbiome research is grappling with a significant challenge: we can't determine the type of microbial community we are studying, for example agricultural, rainforest, or desert communities, through simple observation, let alone the health status of these communities. To tackle this, my team is employing ecological theory to establish a framework for classifying and comparing diverse microbial communities,” said Dr Wood.
“Once we have the tools to classify different types of microbial communities, we can dig deeper (pardon the pun) and begin discerning which communities represent healthy, well-functioning, sustainable soils and which represent soils in decline,” said Dr Wood.
Dr Wood and her team have spent the last five years developing a framework for classifying microbial communities via their traits. They will closely collaborate with peak farming bodies and farmer communities to identify early barriers to adoption and ensure that their findings are practical and accessible for growers to utilise.
“This research is critical for growers to demonstrate that their practices are sustainable and effective – and ultimately improve global food security. If it can’t be used by them, then it is of no use at all,” said Dr Wood.
Previously awarded the Australian Society for Microbiology 2021 Jim Pittard award for outstanding contribution to Australian Microbiology, we can’t wait to see what’s in store for Dr Wood as she paves the way for ground-breaking microbiology and ecology research.