Dr Nick Ostle

Dr Nick Ostle

CEH Fellow

Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
Lancaster Environment Centre
Library Avenue
T: +44 (0)1524 595800
F: +44 (0)1524 61536
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.  

Nick leads a small team of biogeochemists and ecologists working on projects funded by by NERC, BBSRC, Defra and the EU with university and RCUK centre partners.

He also offers expertise in measuring greenhouse gases CO2, CH4, N2O, stable isotope (15N 13C) tracers and 14C carbon dating across large-scale gradients and in long-term ecosystem experiments.

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 being carried out at Moor House National Nature Reserve an Environmental Change Network site located in the Pennine hills of northern England. The work involves carbon flux sampling and 13C tracer studies of a long-term (>50-year) field experiment with management treatments, combined with a plant removal experiment.

The project is a joint collaboration between Dr Nick Ostle and Prof Richard Bardgett (Lancaster University) and is funded under the NERC-CEH EHFI (Ecology and Hydrology Funding Initiative) scheme. The post-doctoral scientist is Dr Susan Ward with support from CEH biogeochemist Simon Oakley.

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. In this study we want to test whether arctic heath ecosystem carbon stocks acclimate after extended (18 year) exposure to elevated CO2, and to examine whether exposure to elevated CO2 has a cumulative effect on ecosystem properties and functions that influence ecosystem stability, resistance and resilience. Field work will be done at the Abisko Polar Research Station in Sweden.

This work is a collaboration between Nick Ostle (CEH) and Dr Dylan Gwyn Jones, 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. 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. Project collaborators: Edinburgh University, Lancaster University, Oxford University.

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


CEH and Glasgow University are collaborating in WP1 of 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. The extent to which changes in these parameters will affect carbon stocks, fluxes and sequestration is currently unknown.
Project collaborators: Glasgow, Leeds, Loughborough and Reading universities, Rothamsted Research.

Current 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”. Supervisor  Nick Ostle, Niall McNamara (CEH), Professor Liz Baggs (Aberdeen University).

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

Brief CV

  • 2006: Group Leader
  • 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., 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, 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., 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.