Professor Nick Ostle


Research Overview


Nick aims to improve scientific understanding of the role of plant-soil biodiversity interactions on ecosystem ecology and biogeochemistry. His research expertise is the application of novel approaches to determine the effects and feedbacks of global change, climate and land use, on terrestrial ecosystems. These ecosystems include peatlands, European grasslands and agricultural lands, boreal and tropical forests.

His research interests lie in the examination of the effects of global change on soil-plant CNP macronutrient cycles, ecosystem biogeochemistry, soil-landscape greenhouse gas exchanges, mitigation of rising CO2, CH4 and N2O emissions, and the measurement and management of terrestrial carbon sequestration in natural, agricultural and land based renewable energy systems.

Nick is a recognised expert in the combined use of 13C and 15N stable isotopes and 14C dating, greenhouse gas measurements, carbon dynamics, and soil microbial molecular techniques.

His research highlights include:

  • novel understanding of the role of biotic regulators, including enzymes, as a ‘latch’ on global peatland carbon stores
  • the development of novel isotope probing technologies to causally link plant carbon dynamics with soil carbon sequestration
  • the establishment of a theoretical framework for the inclusion of plant-soil science into global carbon models
  • the provision of scientific evidence to influence future sustainable soil management in the UK

Nick has received funding for his research from:

  • the National Environmental Research Council (NERC)
  • the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  • the Department for International Development (DFID)
  • the European Union (EU)
  • the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

Published research

Nick has published over 100 papers and book chapters, including papers in leading journals such as Nature and Science. His expertise in soil carbon sequestration led to an invitation to contribute evidence to the UK Government’s Chief Scientists Foresights Report on ‘Land Use Futures’ ( with a review of ‘UK land Use Change and Soil Carbon Sequestration’. He contributed a chapter on ‘Climate change and soil biotic carbon cycling’ for a 2012 book on Soil Ecology and Ecosystem Services, Oxford University Press (

Recent and current research

  • A NERC-funded Human Modified Tropical Forest project ‘BALI’ to study the effects of logging and clearing on forest plant and soil biodiversity and ecosystem biogeochemical function across gradients and experiments in Malaysian Borneo.
  • A NERC-funded project ‘Boreal N Gap’ investigating forest floor feather moss and cyanobacteria nitrogen fixation in Swedish Boreal forests.
  • A NERC-funded project on ‘Elevated CO2 and UV effects on Arctic Tundra heath carbon sequestration’ in Abisko, Sweden.
  • A NERC-funded project ‘Respiration in the Andes’ to measure the effects of climate change on soil microbial diversity and function across a 3000m elevation gradient in Peru.
  • A NERC-funded project ‘WESSEX BESS’ on carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions in chalk grasslands in the UK.
  • A BBSRC-funded project ‘ECOTRAITS’ examining the role of grassland plant traits and diversity as regulators of soil functions including carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas (CO2, CH4 and N2O) emissions in the UK.
  • A BBSRC-funded China Partnering Award exploring ‘Soil bioscience for sustainable food security’
  • DEFRA-funded research into ‘The effects of grip blocking on peatland methane emissions’.

Nick is a member of the Ecology and Conservation research grouping at Lancaster. He supervises PhD students in a wide range of topics that broadly fall under the themes of plant-soil interactions and global change.

Current PhD projects include:

  • Climate change controls on grassland microbial resistance and resilience
  • Grassland plant diversity regulation of soil carbon sequestration
  • Peatland plant functional types and climate warming effects on ecosystem greenhouse gas emissions
  • Forest controls on methane emissions in tropical peatland
  • The climate sensitivity of soil decomposition and microbial populations across Chinese altitudinal gradients
  • Biochar and soil biodiversity effects on plant-soil carbon and nitrogen cycling


Nick’s teaching includes:

  • Lecturing to undergraduate students as part of various LEC BSc degree schemes in Biology, Ecology and Environmental Science.
  • Leading a module for 3rd year undergraduate and Master’s level students studying ‘Issues in Conservation Ecology’ for LEC’s MSc in Ecology and Conservation
  • Contribution to a number of field visits including the BSc field trip to the Scottish Highlands.
  • Supervision of Masters and Undergraduate Dissertation projects


Nick is currently:

Vascular plants promote ancient peatland carbon loss with climate warming
Walker, T., Garnett, M.H., Ward, S.E., Oakley, S., Bardgett, R., Ostle, N.J. 05/2016 In: Global Change Biology. 22, 5, p. 1880-1889. 10 p.
Journal article

Ground-level climate at a peatland wind farm in Scotland is affected by wind turbine operation
Armstrong, A.B., Burton, R., Lee, S., Mobbs, S., Ostle, N.J., Smith, V., Waldron, S., Whitaker, J. 22/04/2016 In: Environmental Research Letters. 11, 4, 8 p.

Can digital image classification be used as a standardised method for surveying peatland vegetation cover?
Baxendale, C.L., Ostle, N.J., Wood, C.M., Oakley, S., Ward, S.E. 7/12/2015 In: Ecological Indicators.
Journal article

Contrasting growth responses of dominant peatland plants to warming and vegetation composition
Walker, T., Ward, S., Ostle, N., Bardgett, R. 05/2015 In: Oecologia. 178, 1, p. 141-151. 11 p.
Journal article

Impact of plant species evenness, dominant species identity and spatial arrangement on the structure and functioning of soil microbial communities in a model grassland
Massaccesi, L., Bardgett, R.D., Agnelli, A., Ostle, N., Wilby, A., Orwin, K.H. 03/2015 In: Oecologia. 177, 3, p. 747-759. 13 p.
Journal article

Harmonising conflicts between science, regulation, perception and environmental impact: the case of soil conditioners from bioenergy
Riding, M.J., Herbert, B.M.J., Ricketts, L., Dodd, I., Ostle, N., Semple, K.T. 02/2015 In: Environment International. 75, p. 52-67. 16 p.
Journal article

Vegetation exerts a greater control on litter decomposition than climate warming in peatlands
Ward, S., Orwin, K., Ostle, N., Briones, M., Thomson, B., Griffiths, R., Oakley, S., Quirk, H., Bardgett, R. 01/2015 In: Ecology. 96, 1, p. 113-123. 11 p.
Journal article

Microbial community composition explains soil respiration responses to changing carbon inputs along an Andes-to-Amazon elevation gradient
Whitaker, J., Ostle, N., Nottingham, A., Ccahuana, A., Salinas, N., Bardgett, R., Meir, P., McNamara, N. 07/2014 In: Journal of Ecology. 102, 4, p. 1058-1071. 14 p.
Journal article

Wind farm and solar park effects on plant–soil carbon cycling: uncertain impacts of changes in ground-level microclimate
Armstrong, A., Waldron, S., Whitaker, J., Ostle, N. 06/2014 In: Global Change Biology. 20, 6, p. 1699-1706. 8 p.
Journal article

Effects of species evenness and dominant species identity on multiple ecosystem functions in model grassland communities
Orwin, K., Ostle, N., Wilby, A., Bardgett, R. 03/2014 In: Oecologia. 174, 3, p. 979-992. 14 p.
Journal article

Warming effects on greenhouse gas fluxes in peatlands are modulated by vegetation composition
Ward, S., Ostle, N., Oakley, S., Quirk, H., Henrys, P., Bardgett, R. 10/2013 In: Ecology Letters. 16, 10, p. 1285-1293. 9 p.
Journal article

Methane indicator values for peatlands: a comparison of species and functional groups
Gray, A., Levy, P.E., Cooper, M.D.A., Gaiawyn, J., Leeson, S.R., Ward, S., Dinsmore, K.J., Drewer, J., Sheppard, L.J., Ostle, N., Evans, C.D., Burden, A., Zielinski, P. 2013 In: Global Change Biology. 19, 4, p. 1141–1150. 10 p.
Journal article

Fire accelerates assimilation and transfer of photosynthetic carbon from plants to soil microbes in a northern peatland
Ward, S., Ostle, N., Oakley, S., Quirk, H., Stott, A., Henrys, P., Scott, W.A., Bardgett, R. 12/2012 In: Ecosystems. 15, 8, p. 1245-1257. 13 p.
Journal article

Methane emissions from soils: synthesis and analysis of a large UK data set
Levy, P.E., Burden, A., Cooper, M.D.A., Dinsmore, K.J., Drewer, J., Evans, C., Fowler, D., Gaiawyn, J., Gray, A., Jones, S.K., Jones, T., Mcnamara, N.P., Mills, R., Ostle, N., Sheppard, L.J., Skiba, U., Sowerby, A., Ward, S.E., Zielinski, P. 05/2012 In: Global Change Biology. 18, 5, p. 1657-1669. 13 p.
Journal article

Climate change and soil biotic carbon cycling
Ostle, N., Ward, S. 2012 In: Soil Ecology and Ecosystem Services. Oxford : Oxford University Press p. 241-255. 15 p. Electronic ISBN: 978-0-19-957592-3.

Increased plant carbon translocation linked to overyielding in grassland species mixtures
De Deyn, G., Quirk, H., Oakley, S., Ostle, N., Bardgett, R. 2012 In: PLoS ONE. 7, 9
Journal article

Additional carbon sequestration benefits of grassland diversity restoration
De Deyn, G., Shiel, R.S., Ostle, N., McNamara, N., Oakley, S., Young, I., Freeman, C., Fenner, N., Quirk, H., Bardgett, R. 06/2011 In: Journal of Applied Ecology. 48, 3, p. 600-608. 9 p.
Journal article

Rapid transfer of photosynthetic carbon through the plant-soil system in differently managed species-rich grasslands
De Deyn, G., Quirk, H., Oakley, S., Ostle, N., Bardgett, R. 2011 In: Biogeosciences. 8, 5, p. 1131-1139. 9 p.
Journal article

Vegetation composition promotes carbon and nitrogen storage in model grassland communities of contrasting soil fertility
De Deyn, G., Quirk, H., Yi, Z., Oakley, S., Ostle, N., Bardgett, R. 09/2009 In: Journal of Ecology. 97, 5, p. 864-875. 12 p.
Journal article

Plant functional group identity influences short-term peatland ecosystem carbon flux : evidence from a plant removal experiment.
Ward, S.E., Bardgett, R.D., McNamara, N.P., Ostle, N.J., Ostle, N. 04/2009 In: Functional Ecology. 23, 2, p. 454-462. 9 p.
Journal article

Functional shifts of grassland soil communities in response to soil warming
Briones, M.J.I., Ostle, N., McNamara, N.P., Poskitt, J. 02/2009 In: Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 41, 2, p. 315-322. 8 p.
Journal article

Revealing the uncultivated majority: combining DNA stable-isotope probing, multiple displacement amplification and metagenomic analyses of uncultivated Methylocystis in acidic peatland
Chen, Y., Dunmont, M.G., Neufeld, J.D., Bodrossy, L., Stralis-Pavese, N., McNamara, N.P., Ostle, N., Briones, M.J.I., Murrell, C. 10/2008 In: Environmental Microbiology. 10, 10, p. 2609-2622. 14 p.
Journal article