Soil microbial diversity, composting and enrichment

Soil Microbial Diversity Head

“Soil organisms contribute a wide range of essential services to the sustainable function of all ecosystems, by acting as the primary driving agents of nutrient cycling, regulating the dynamics of soil organic matter, soil carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emission; modifying soil physical structure and water regimes, enhancing the amount and efficiency of nutrient acquisition by the vegetation and enhancing plant health. These services are not only essential to the functioning of natural ecosystems but constitute an important resource for the sustainable management of agricultural systems.”

Soil Biodiversity and Sustainable Agriculture, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 2001.


A major research platform in microbial genes and enzymes at the University of Waikato’s School of Science has led to a large number of fundamental and applied projects investigating soil microbes and composting processes for a variety of purposes.

Among the latest projects is a Technology for Industry Fellowship to understand and improve a process for composting rock phosphate on behalf of Ballance Agri-Nutrients. The process uses micro-organisms to make the phosphate soluble, helping to make it available for plant uptake. This can be marketed as a biologically released phosphate fertiliser (BioPhos), instead of a phosphate fertiliser that is derived through a chemical industrial process.

Another current project is to analyse the bacterial diversity of New Zealand geothermal soils. As part of this study new, unclassified organisms have been isolated from extreme temperature soils that will be classified in collaboration with GNS Science (Wairakei). The long-term aim is to understand the role different organisms play in these extreme soil ecosystems, and to research different ways in which they may be useful.

Both these projects are being led by Dr Ian McDonald.

External funding gratefully acknowledged: Technology for Industry Fellowship; GNS Science.


This page has been reformatted for printing.