Sustainable management of soil nitrogen-fixing biodiversity in the Andean pastures


Sustainable management of soil nitrogen-fixing biodiversity in the Andean pastures


Project Description


Dr Jose De Vega (Earlham Institute)

Dr Corrado Di Maria (UEA Economics)

Dr Silvia Ferrini (UEA Environmental Sciences)

Prof Federica Di Palma (Earlham Institute)

Prof Anthony Hall (Earlham Institute)

Project Description

This proposal targets the Colombian Andean pastures used for livestock grazing in the regions close to Bogota and Cali. The student will evaluate how different farming practices impact soil diversity there, focusing in nitrogen-fixing bacteria (NFB) communities that interact with legume plants. And assessing the effect of these NFB and interactions in soil fertility and consequently for agricultural production. The project will deliver impact by recommending policy incentives that promote the adoption of farming practices that consider the impact they have on soil and other natural resources.


Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, and the growing demand for meat and milk in Colombia by an increasing urban population has been pushing the expansion of the livestock activity on lands with a forestry, grassland or conservation vocation, especially in the Andean pastures that surround the urban regions where most of the Colombian population concentrates. A sustainable management of these areas based on evidence-supported recommendations can jointly enhance biodiversity protection and develop economic growth.


We will leverage on DNA technologies, such as metagenomics and transcriptomics, and economic valuation of ecosystem services to answer the following interconnected questions in two Andean regions under study, the subtropical lowlands in the Cauca Valley (Cali) and the temperate highlands in Cundinamarca (Bogota):

1) What is the impact of different farming practices in soil diversity, particularly in NFB that interact with legumes?

2) What is the effect of these legume-NFB interactions in soil fertility?

3) What is the economic value of the enhanced/diminish soil fertility for agricultural production?

The proposal involves visits to our partners in Colombia for data acquisition through field sampling and stakeholders’ participatory surveys. The partners are coinvestigators in our “GROW Colombia” capacity building project.


The studentship mainly involves training in computational analysis of genomic and socioeconomic data, such as RNA-seq, metagenomics and choice experiments. It also requires field-work in Colombia and greenhouse experiments for data generation. Skills on statistical and bioinformatic analysis of different types of data are in great demand in the knowledge-based economy.

Person specification

Degree in Environmental/Biological Sciences, with a strong interest/experience in computational or statistical data analysis, either genomic or socioeconomic. Availability to travel to Colombia (Approximately 3 months total) for data acquisition and evaluation.


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  • Sierra et al. (2017) Monitoring ecological change during rapid socio-economic and political transitions: Colombian ecosystems in the post-conflict era, Environmental Science & Policy 76:40-49
  • De Vega JJ et al. (2013) Transcriptomic analysis highlights epigenetic and transcriptional regulation..., BMC Plant Biology 13(1):123
  • Ferrini S & Scarpa R (2007) Designs with a priori information for nonmarket valuation with choice experiments..., Journal of environmental economics and management 53 (3), 342-363
  • Van der Werf E & Di Maria C (2012) Imperfect environmental policy and polluting emissions..., International Review of Environmental and Resource Economics 6(2):153-194

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