Dr Nick Ostle

Professor Nick Ostle

CEH Fellow

Lancaster Environment Centre
Library Avenue
T: +44 (0)1524 595800
E-mail: Dr Nick Ostle







Research expertise

Nick is an ecologist and biogeochemist interested in global change effects of land use, climate change and atmospheric deposition on biodiversity and other ecosystem services. He also has a history of work on plant-soil interactions and their influence on carbon and nitrogen cycles in peatlands and grasslands in the UK and around the world.  He is a Professor at Lancaster University.


Supplying food, fibre, energy and water to an increasing human population whilst protecting biodiversity and natural resources in a changing world is one of the greatest challenges facing our generation


Selected projects

Plant functional diversity and peatland carbon cycling (NERC 2008-2011)

Peatlands represent a vast store of terrestrial carbon. We are exploring how changes in vegetation composition and diversity resulting from long-term management influence the cycling of C in peatland ecosystems. The study is carried out at Moor House National Nature Reserve an Environmental Change Network site in the Pennine hills of northern England.

Do Arctic plant-soil communities acclimate to long-term elevated CO2 exposure? (NERC 2011-2014)

Arctic ecosystems are of critical importance to global conservation and store up to one-third of global soil carbon reserves. Their stability under future atmospheric CO2 scenarios will have major influences on global biodiversity and warming. This work is a collaboration with Dr Dylan Gwyn Jones and Dr John Scullion (Aberystwyth University).

Linkages between plant functional diversity, soil biological communities and ecosystem services in agricultural grassland (BBSRC 2011-2016)

The issue of soil carbon storage is high on the political and scientific agenda, largely due to growing interest in the extent to which soils can sequester carbon. This study is testing whether grassland "plant community traits" can be managed to promote sequestration of carbon in soils, as a result of altering the amount and quality of carbon inputs to soil and their processing by the microbial community. Work involves establishment of long-term large-scale field experiments that will provide the first information on the potential for plant diversity to be utilised to manipulate soil nutrient cycling towards greater carbon and nitrogen storage, and lower greenhouse gas emissions.  

The project is joint collaboration between Dr Nick Ostle and Prof Richard Bardgett (Lancaster University), and Prof Liz Baggs (Aberdeen University).

Respiration in the Andes: climate sensitivity of soil respiration (NERC 2010-2013)

View of Trocha Union-San Pedro

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 (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), understanding is urgently needed.

Microclimates: impacts of spatio-climatic variability on land-based renewables (NERC Consortium grant 2010-2013)


Project collaborators: CEH, Glasgow, Leeds, Loughborough and Reading universities, Rothamsted Research.

Brief CV

  • 2006: Group Leader at CEH
  • 2003 onwards: Centre for Ecology & Hydrology at Lancaster
  • 1999-2003: Centre for Ecology & Hydrology at Merlewood
  • 1995-1999: University of Exeter (PhD)


Selected publications

See also the NERC Open Research Archive.

Ostle, N.J., Levy, P.E., Evans, C.D., Smith, P. (2009). UK land use and soil carbon sequestration. Land Use Policy 26; 274-283

Ostle, N.J., Smith, P., Fisher, R. et al. (2009) Integrating plant-soil interactions into global carbon cycle models. Journal of Ecology  97, 851-863

Ostle, N., Whiteley. A.S., Bailey, M.J., Sleep, D., Ineson, P. and Manefield (2003). Active microbial RNA turnover in a grassland soil estimated using a 13CO2 spike. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 35, 877-885.

Ostle, N,. Ineson, P., Benham, D., Sleep, D. (2000). Carbon assimilation and turnover in grassland vegetation using an in situ 13CO2 pulse labelling system. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 14, 1345-1350.

De Deyn, G.B., Shiel, R.S., Ostle, N.J., McNamara, N,P,, Oakley, S., Young, I., Freeman, C., Fenner, N., Quirk, H. and Bardgett, R.D. (2010). Additional carbon sequestration benefits of grassland diversity restoration. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01925.x

Ward, S.E., Bardgett, R.D., McNamara, N.P., Ostle, N.J., (2009). Plant functional group identity influences short-term peatland ecosystem carbon flux: evidence from a plant removal experiment. Functional Ecology 23, 454-462.

Bardgett, R.D., Freeman, C., Ostle, N.J. (2008). Microbial contributions to climate change through carbon cycle feedbacks. ISME Journal 8, 805-814.

Freeman, C., Ostle, N., Kang, H. (2001). An enzymic "latch" on a global carbon store – a shortage of oxygen locks up carbon in peatlands by restraining a single enzyme. Nature 409, 149-149.

Freeman, C., Fenner, N., Ostle, N.J., Kang, H., Dowrick, D.J., Reynolds, B., Lock, M.A., Sleep, D., Hughes, S., Hudson, J. (2004). Export of dissolved organic carbon from peatlands under elevated carbon dioxide levels. Nature 430, 195-198.

Staddon, P.L., Ramsey, C.B., Ostle, N., Ineson, P., Fitter, A.H. (2003). Rapid turnover of hyphae of mycorrhizal fungi determined by AMS microanalysis of 14C. Science 300, 1138-1140.

Johnson, D., Leake, J.R., Ostle, N., Ineson, P., Read, D.J. (2002). In situ 13C-CO2 pulse-labelling of upland grassland demonstrates a rapid pathway of carbon flux from arbuscular mycorrhizal mycelia to the soil. New Phytologist 153, 327-334.

Leake, J.R., Ostle, N.J., Rangel-Castro, J.I. and Johnson, D. (2006). Carbon fluxes from plants through soil organisms determined by field
13CO2 pulse-labelling in an upland grassland. Applied Soil Ecology 33, 152-175.

Vandenkoornhuyse, P., Mahe, S., Ineson, P., Staddon, P., Ostle, N., Cliquet, J.B., Francez, A.J., Fitter, A.H. and Young, J.P.W. (2007). Active root-inhabiting microbes identified by rapid incorporation of plant derived carbon into RNA. PNAS 104, 16970-16975.

Manefield, M., Whiteley, A.S., Ostle, N. et al. (2002). Technical considerations for RNA-based stable isotope probing: an approach to associating microbial diversity with microbial community function. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 16, 2179-2183.

Freeman, C., Liska, G., Ostle, N.J., Lock, M.A., Reynolds, B., Hudson, J. (1996) Microbial activity and enzymic decomposition processes following peatland water table drawdown. Plant and Soil 180, 121-127.

PhD students

Harriett Rea (2010-2013) NERC: “Do wind farms affect carbon sequestration in peatlands?”. Supervisor Nick Ostle (CEH), Co-supervisors Jeanette Whitaker (CEH), Prof. Susan Waldron (Glasgow University).

Rachel Marshall (2009-2012) NERC: “Stoichiometric controls on peatland carbon losses”. Supervisors  Nick Ostle, Niall McNamara (CEH), Professor Liz Baggs (Aberdeen University).

Mike Whitfield (2008-2011) “Spatio-dynamic understanding of peatland biogeochemistry”. Supervisors Nick Ostle (CEH), Rebekka Artz (Macaulay Institute), Professor Richard Bardgett (Lancaster University).