EXCALIBUR: soil biodiversity in horticulture

A field stretching into the distance, showing tilled soil and growing plants

Image CC0 via pxhere

Project summary

Dates: June 2019 - May 2024

Focus: Exploiting the multifunctional potential of belowground biodiversity in horticultural farming

Funding: European Commission (H2020-EU.3.2.1.)

Soils are rich in biodiversity. The soil microbiome, comprised of bacteria, archaea, fungi and other protists, together with small invertebrates such as earthworms, is a major component of soils throughout the world.

The soil microbiome plays a central role in organic matter decomposition, nutrient and biogeochemical cycling and is also important in agricultural soil systems. The microbiome interacts with the roots of plants in ways that affect plant growth, health, and resistance to pathogens.

Adding certain microorganisms, known as bioinoculants, to agriculture systems may further enhance the positive feedback of microbes on the soil microbiome, affecting plant growth and crop production.

The Excalibur project brings together 16 partners in a major collaboration of across Europe, aiming to obtain a better understanding of underground soil biodiversity and dynamics.

New soil bioinoculants will be evaluated for the three model crops of economic importance: tomato, apple and strawberry. These will be studied under both conventional and organic horticultural management.

A triptych showing an individual strawberry, tomato and apple

Strawberries, tomatoes and apples are important economic crops  [Images: strawberry by Toni Cuenca from Pexels, apple by Toni Cuenca from Pexels, tomato CC0 via Pikrepo]

The Museum's role

The Museum’s research teams will bring unique expertise to the project by applying cutting-edge sequencing technologies to characterize soil biodiversity and gain a better resolution of microbe plant interactions. Our botanical collections will be used to study the history of plant diseases.

Museum researchers will also take a leading role in the evaluation of how microbes interact with soil minerals to support nutrients available for crop plants.

An important component of the project will be based on NHM’s expertise from the PREDICTS database, where researchers will develop statistical models to estimate and predict how land management and bioinoculants affect biodiversity in agricultural systems. 

Funded by the European Union

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 817946. Our website reflects only the authors’ views and the EU is not liable for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.