Dr Jeanette Whitaker
Research interests and expertise
I am a plant-soil ecologist whose research focuses on the impacts of global change and land-use change on terrestrial ecosystems; specifically carbon and nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration. I also conduct applied research focused on the effects and interactions of climate change and mitigation measures (renewable energy and biochar) on biogeochemical cycling.
Selected current projects
1. Respiration in the Andes: Climate sensitivity of soil respiration (NERC 2010-2014)
The eastern flank of the Tropical Andes is the most biologically diverse region of the planet. This region is likely to warm by 3-5 ºC this century with likely consequences for ecosystem processes and biological diversity. The climatic vulnerability of the exceptionally large soil carbon stores in the region is very poorly documented and, as argued by the IPCC, understanding is urgently needed.
The overarching goal of this project is to test the importance of variation in soil microbial community composition in constraining soil processes, particularly with respect to estimating changes in soil respiration (Rs) under climatic warming.
2. Microclimates: Impacts of Spatio-Climatic Variability on Land-Based Renewables (NERC Consortium grant 2010-2014)
CEH Lancaster and Glasgow University are collaborating on this project with the principal aim of assessing the resilience of carbon sequestration and storage in carbon-rich landscapes to wind energy generation. We hypothesise that the presence of rotating turbines will alter air flow and turbulence over the land, thus creating a site-specific microclimate. This in turn, may affect carbon cycling processes in peatland ecosystems. To what extent changes in these parameters will affect carbon stocks, fluxes and sequestration is currently unknown.
3. CARBO-BIOCROP: Delivering carbon benefits to the UK landscape (2010-2013). Co-investigator, NERC Land-based renewables programme consortium grant.
Current PhD students
Heather Stott (2013-2016). “Dual Land-Use for Solar Energy and Food Production: Effects on Ecosystem Function”, NERC PhD studentship. Primary supervisor (Armstrong, Lancaster University), co-supervisors Whitaker, Ostle (CEH) and Davies (Lancaster).
Andrew Cole (2012-2015)“Climate change impacts on biodiversity controls of grassland ecosystem services”. NERC PhD studentship primary supervisor R Bardgett (Manchester), co-supervisors Ostle, Whitaker, Thomson (CEH).
Lettice Hicks. “ Soil Carbon Dynamics in Peruvian Forests: impacts of land use change ” NERC PhD studentship primary supervisor Patrick Meir (Edinburgh) Co-supervisors Whitaker (CEH), Ostle (Lancaster).
Harriett Richardson (2010-2013) “Do wind farms affect carbon sequestration in peatlands?” (Supervisor Nick Ostle (CEH), Co-supervisors Jeanette Whitaker (CEH), Prof. Susan Waldron (Glasgow University).
See also the NORA Open Research Archive.
Whitaker J., Ostle N. Nottingham AT, Ccahuana A, Salinas N, Meir P, Bardgett RD, McNamara NP (2014) Microbial community composition explains soil respiration responses to changing carbon inputs along an Andes-to-Amazon elevation gradient. Journal of Ecology. Online early March 2014.
Armstrong A, Waldron S, Ostle N, Whitaker J (2014) Wind farm and solar park effects on plant-soil carbon cycling: potential impacts of changes in ground-level microclimate. Global Change Biology. Online early April 2013. DOI:10.1111/gcb.12437.
Moran Jay, B., Howard D, Hughes N, Whitaker J and Anandarajah G (2014) Modelling socio-environmental sensitivities: How public responses to low carbon energy technologies could shape the UK energy system.. The Scientific World Journal.
Case S. D.C., McNamara, N.P., Reay D.S., Whitaker J. (2013) Can biochar reduce soil greenhouse gas emissions from a Miscanthus bioenergy crop?. Global Change Biology Bioenergy, accepted January 2013.
Case S. D.C., McNamara, N.P., Reay D.S., Whitaker J. (2012) The effect of biochar addition on N2O and CO2 emissions from a sandy loam soil – The role of soil aeration. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 51, 125-134.
Rowe R, Whitaker J*, Freer-Smith PH, Chapman J, Ludley KE, Howard, DC, and Taylor G (2011) Counting the cost of carbon in bioenergy systems: sources of variation and hidden pitfalls when comparing life cycle assessments. Biofuels, 2(6), 693-707.
Whitaker J., Ludley, KE., Rowe R, Taylor G, and Howard DC (2010) Sources of variability in estimates of greenhouse gas emissions and energy requirements for biofuel production. Global Change Biology Bioenergy, 2 (3), 99–112.
Skea, J., Anandarajah G., Chaudry M., Shakoor A., Strachan N., Wang X. and Whitaker J (2010) Chapter 4: Energy futures: the challenges of decarbonisation and security of supply. In: Energy 2050: Making the transition to a secure low carbon energy system. Eds. J. Skea, P. Ekins, M. Winskel, Earthscan, UK.
SM Smart, WA Scott, J Whitaker, MO Hill, DB Roy, CNR Critchley, L Marini, C Evans, BA Emmett, EC Rowe, A Crowe, M Le Duc & RH. Marrs (2010) Empirical realized niche models for British Higher and lower plant – development and preliminary testing. Journal of Vegetation Science, 21(4), 643-656.
Howard, D.C., Wadsworth, R.A., Whitaker, J., Hughes, N., Bunce, R.G.H (2009) The impact of sustainable energy production on land use in Britain through to 2050. Land Use Policy, 26S, S284-292.
KE Ludley, SM Jickells, PM Chamberlain, J Whitaker and CH Robinson (2009) Distribution of monoterpenes between organic resources in upper soil horizons under monocultures of Picea abies, Picea sitchensis and Pinus sylvestris. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, Volume 41(6), 1050-1059.
Previous Research Projects
Soil Carbon Sequestration Under Energy Crops (2008-2011)
This project, led by Niall McNamara at CEH Lancaster, aims to deduce the carbon balance of energy crop plantations (miscanthus, willow SRC). Using these crops for bioenergy is generally considered carbon neutral; however, there are a number of uncertainties associated with the greenhouse gas balance of the cultivation of this crop. I will use data generated from this project to complete a Life Cycle Assessment of the GHG emissions from this energy production chain.
UK Energy Research Centre (2004-2009) Topic leader, Environmental Sustainability theme.
My research within this project focused on the environmental sustainability of a wide range of renewable and non-renewable energy technologies including biofuels for transport and biomass for heat and power. Recent work has focused on how life cycle assessment is used to assess the costs and benefits of transport biofuels in terms of the energy required to produce the fuels and the GHG emissions associated with their generation.
I also contributed to the UKERC Energy 2050 project which demonstrated how the UK could move towards a resilient low-carbon energy system over the next 40 years. My role in this project was to define a key set of parameters describing the environmental impacts of the UK energy system going forwards to 2050, and quantify these parameters based on the results from modelling of scenarios for the UK Energy System (MARKAL model).