Securing the future of water and soil


This project aims to develop a dynamical systems model for soil that will enable better understanding of the factors that maintain its natural fertility and nutritional quality of food.


Professor Stephen Simpson, Professor Max Bennett, Professor Ian Caterson, Associate Professor Michael Charleston, Associate Professor Timothy Gill

Research Location

Charles Perkins Centre – the Judith and David Coffey Life Lab

Program Type



Agricultural soil degradation threatens to reduce global food production by 30% in the next 20 years unless trends are reversed. Furthermore, even moderately degraded soil stores fifty percent less water making irrigation and storage of rain water extremely inefficient. Finally, soil is the source of almost all of the nutrition required to sustain human health. This project aims to develop a dynamical systems model of the interactions in the soil-plant-microbe system that will form the theoretical foundation of approaches to reverse these trends. It will focus on the role of carbon in fuelling a novel homeostatic mechanism in soil. This mechanism results from the interaction between microbial activity and the packing of soil particles and gives rise to the spontaneous organisation of soil at scales that govern microbial activity and hydraulic properties. It acts to recover structure and natural fertility and, together with coordinated management of the plant community, yield beneficial hydrological and nutritional properties of soil. In helping to secure soil and water using carbon, the approach has the potential to also contribute significantly to the sequestration of carbon in soil and so mitigate the effects of climate change.

Additional Information

The Life Lab creates a new kind of graduate and postgraduate training environment at the interface between life, social, economic and physical sciences. Its focus is to address the significant challenges we face from an unsustainable food system that degrades the environmental services it depends on, and creates significant societal health problems. A better understanding of the complexity of the environment-food-health nexus is critical. It is fundamental to building a sustainable society, and one that is more robust to future uncertainties. Our unique approach will be a world-first in shifting research on these growing challenges from treating symptoms to prevention.Life Lab will challenge existing paradigms and university models to create a research training environment in which traditional disciplinary boundaries do not apply. Our ambitious vision is to create an ‘innovation hub' where researchers from disciplines spanning physical, life and social and economic sciences will interface with business, government and agency leaders. It will develop integrated approaches to the challenges that threaten societal wellbeing, and train the next generation of experts with the skills required to find solutions.

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soil, dynamical systems, modeling, water, food security, carbon

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 1692

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