Dr. Andrew Robertson
Ph.D. Aberdeen University
The complexity of ecosystems first stirred my interest while working for Shell in 2004 before I began a BSc and MSc at Edinburgh University in Environmental Science and Environmental Sustainability, respectively. To develop this interest into a career I pursued a PhD at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in collaboration with Shell and Aberdeen University. My PhD focussed on the role of Miscanthus in controlling ecosystem carbon dynamics and, in particular, the stability and longevity of soil carbon. This research aimed to integrate measurements into models to better simulate carbon budgets under bioenergy systems. Now, I aim to expand this research into a range of agricultural systems across the Great Plains while focussing on the carbon, nitrogen and hydrological cycles, and from a predominantly modelling perspective.
As the detrimental impacts of global climate change strengthen, so too does our understanding of environmental systems and best management practices to stave off those impacts of climate change. All at once, this is a scary and exciting time for science, and predictions for our future depend on optimism, knowledge and implementation strategies. Personally, I'm optimistic that things are still within our control and a key reason for believing this is derived from my work with simulating carbon, nitrogen and hydrological cycles through systems models. Using these models it is clear to see that there are a number of scenarios that lead to beneficial outcomes. None of these scenarios come without compromise but they don't require us to plant trees on every bit of land or stop driving cars tomorrow; there are sustainable and practical win-win situations. With this in mind, my focus while working at CSU is to further our understanding of agricultural ecosystems and suggest management practices that improve soil quality and crop yields, while limiting environmental damage. Globally, agricultural land accounts for more than 10% of the Earth's surface area and therefore we have a prime opportunity to tackle global environmental issues by managing this land sustainably.
B.S. Biology, SUNY Geneseo
Looking out the window of a plane on my way back from Kansas to my hometown in New York, I noticed the dominance of agriculture on the American landscape for the first time. I had just completed a summer of research at Kansas State University where I studied how soil properties change over time after being restored from agricultural land back to tallgrass prairie. As I stared out on this massive expanse of agricultural land, I contemplated the ideal agricultural system – one that provides the environmental services of a natural ecosystem while meeting the needs of human civilization in a manner that is socially just. Agriculture is the point of intersection between human and natural systems, and the management of our landscape is shaped by the changing environment, as well as the social, political, economic, and cultural conditions of our society. I am interested in understanding how these factors interact and converge to influence farmer decision-making, and also how ecologically focused management practices like crop rotation affect key ecosystem properties like soil health.
At CSU, I am examining the sociological and biophysical dimensions of dryland cropping intensification, which is the reduction or elimination of fallow periods in crop rotations. By conducting interviews with farmers throughout the West-Central Great Plains, I am identifying the social, economic, political, and environmental barriers to cropping system intensification, the strategies that farmers have successfully employed to overcome these barriers, and their motivations behind the transition. Through on-farm soil sampling across a gradient of cropping intensities, I will quantify the effect of crop rotation on soil structure, crop yields, and drought tolerance in winter wheat. I am also conducting a spatial analysis of crop rotations at the landscape-scale to examine spatial and temporal patterns of fallow frequency, and to assess the regional impact of greater adoption of cropping intensification on carbon sequestration, food production, reductions in herbicide use, and greater economic return to farmers.