Rutherford postdoctoral fellow award

03 Nov, 2021
Dr Syrie Hermans
Dr Syrie Hermans

Dr Syrie Hermans, has been awarded a Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to research how microbes in the soil benefit agricultural ecosystems.

Dr Hermans, who has been at Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany, will work with Professor Hannah Buckley and Associate Professor Bradley Case at AUT, and Associate Professor Gavin Lear at the University of Auckland.

Agriculture plays a crucial role in Aotearoa New Zealand’s economy; its success and sustainability are directly underpinned by the health and fertility of our soils. However, many conventional agricultural practices can come with an enormous toll on our environment by deteriorating soil and water quality, as well as contributing to biodiversity losses and greenhouse gas emissions.

Regenerative agriculture – a biodiversity-driven management system – could potentially alleviate most of the deteriorating effects of conventional agriculture by establishing ecological synergy between soil, water, and atmosphere. However, despite being increasingly adopted in Aotearoa and overseas, there is little scientific evidence on the benefits of regenerative agriculture. In particular, the relationship between the success of regenerative agricultural practices and soil microbial communities is largely unknown.

Microbes, or “microscopic organisms,” are living forms that are too small to be seen with the naked eye; such as bacteria, virus and fungi. Bacteria are fundamental members of the soil ecosystem, maintaining soil quality by cycling important nutrients such as carbon, nitrogen, and sulphur. A complete understanding of their responses to regenerative agricultural practices is crucial for our understanding of the benefits they may bring and how they could be maximised.

During her fellowship, Dr Hermans will determine the differences in soil bacterial community composition in both conventional and regenerative agricultural sites across Aotearoa New Zealand, to study how the microbial communities differ between these two agricultural approaches and their responses during the conversion from conventional to regenerative practices.

She will then translate this knowledge to determine how regenerative agriculture impacts carbon sequestration – the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide – and identifying specific microbial indicators. This research will provide scientific evidence of the costs and benefits of adopting regenerative agriculture across Aotearoa and into the future.

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