Search staff/organisations JW van Groenigen
Name JW van Groenigen

Job details
OrganizationDepartment of Environmental Sciences
Organization UnitSoil Biology
Phone+31 317 484 784
Secretarial phone+31 317 486 096
Phone 2
Fax+31 317 426 101
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Visiting addressDroevendaalsesteeg 3a
Postal addressPostbus 47
Ancillary activities
  • Editor in chief of the journal Geoderma - Elsevier
    May 2014 - Present

    Responsible for setting the course of the journal; the composition of the editorial team; and the quality of the peer review process.


"May you live in interesting times" - Ancient Chinese curse (origin disputed)

These are indeed very interesting times to be a soil scientist. There is hardly an environmental challenge to humanity that does not require input from soil science. In the developed world we may have deluded ourselves over the last few decades into thinking that we somehow had shed our connections to the soil as the basis for our existence. In recent years, however, there has been a growing awareness that we need prudent stewardship of our soil resources for our survival. For food; for fuel; for fiber. For buffering our pollutants, for storing our drinking water, for maintaining biodiversity and for mitigating global warming.

As a soil scientist, I aim to study how we can manage our soils best in the light of two major challenges: climate change and the impending decline in Phosporous (P) fertilizer resources. Most of my research therefore focuses on finding innovative ways to improve P uptake efficiency and decrease soil greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, without diminishing (or if possible: improving) the potential of the soil to provide food, fuel and fibers. 

I try to integrate my research as much as possible with my teaching. In my view, at a university excellent teaching begets excellent research, and excellent research begets excellent teaching. One is not possible - or desirable - without the other. Therefore, many of the MSc theses by my students are published in peer-reviewed journals. 

Next to research and teaching, much of my professoinal time is taken up by Geoderma, the global journal of soil science, of which I am one of the Editors in Chief.

There are three main topics within my research program:

  1. What are the pathways and controls of soil GHG emissions?
  2. What is the impact of  biofuel production on soil quality?
  3. How does functional biodiversity of fauna and plants affect soil N and P cycling?


These topics will be detailed blow.


1. What are the pathways and controls of soil GHG emissions?

A large part of my research is dedicated to the question which biogeochemical processes are responsible for production of greenhouse gases in the soil, especially of N2O (arguably both the most important and most interesting greenhouse gas to soil scientists). Using state-of-the-art multiple isotope tracing techniques, my groups has been able to study dynamics of N2O production and reduction in the soil profile. We developed a novel method to quantify N2O reduction in the soil profile and link this to soil management. My PhD student Dorien Kool has developed a multiple isotope method (15N and 18O) to quantify the contribution of different N2O producing pathways. We have for the first time successfully quantified the elusive production pathway 'nitrifier denitrification', and proven that it can be a major source of N2O in the soil.

Currently, two PhD students are working in this area: Syed Faiz-ul Islam studies GHG emissions from rice systems in south-east Asia; and Jeffrey van Lent studies how GHG emissions are affected by tropical peat soils that are converted from forest to agricultural lands in Amazonia (see in Projects). 



2. What is the impact of  biofuel production on soil quality?

The increasing demand for food, fuel and fibers necessitates agricultural systems that are both efficient and sustainable. The risk of soil degradation due to removal of crop residues for biofuel production chains is high. Therefore, in the past few years MariLuz Cayuela (a postdoc in my group funded by a Marie Curie fellowship) studied whether rest products of biofuel production chains could be a useful soil amendment to replenish soil organic matter. Her work showed for the first time that second-generation biofuel rest products might detrimentally affect the soil greenhouse gas balance.

Currently, one postdoc is working on this topic: Simon Jeffery studies how soil amendment with biochar (which is currently widely promoted to improve soil fertility and sequester carbon) affects ecological interactions in the soil (see in Projects). 



3. How does functional biodiversity of fauna and plants affect soil N and P cycling?

The nature of the relation between biodiversity and ecosystem services is currently widely debated in (soil) ecology, with emphasis shifting in recent years from biodiversity in general towards functional biodiversity (e.g. using trait-based approaches). The link with the greenhouse gas balance of the soil, however, has almost been ignored. In this research line I am studying how (functional) diversity of higher soil biota might contribute to the greenhouse gas balance of the soil. Over the past few years I have focused on the role of earthworms, as the most important soil ecosystem engineers in temperate regions. In a meta-analysis published in the prestigious journal Nature Climate Change, as well as in numerous experimental studies, we showed that earthworms dramatically increase emissions of N2O and CO2

Currently, Ingrid Lubbers works on this topic as postdoc, studying the effects of trophic interactions in the soil food web on controls for N2O emissions (see in Projects).

Watch the amazing action of earthworms during one month in our timelapse movie!

Expert Profile
Social media
  Jan Willem van Groenigen on Google Scholar Citations
  @JWvanGroenigen on Twitter
  Jan Willem van Groenigen on ResearchGate
  Jan Willem van Groenigen on Linkedin

Key publications
Publication lists


Postdoc project Simon Jeffrey: "Soil Amelioration with Biochar in a Natural Ecosystem (SABINE) and Biochar Application to Soil in a Natural Ecosystem (BASE)"

These projects investigate the effects of biochar application to semi-natural grasslands. Both projects utilise an experimental site which is set up on the Veluwe national park in the Netherlands.

The first project, SABINE, looks at the mid to long term effects of two biochars over four successive years. Biochar was produced from grass cuttings collected from the site and pyrolysed in two separate batches at 400°C or 600°C. This was applied to soil at a rate equivalent to 10 t ha-1. The effects on on above ground and below ground communities have been monitored over the past four growing seasons. This has been combined with a range of soil chemical and physical analyses and greenhouse experiments to investigate mechanisms behind observed effects.

The second project, BASE, investigates the effects of biochar applied at different application rates up to 50 t ha-1 equivalents, on above ground productivity, plant community and soil physical effects (e.g. field-saturated flow and soil water release curves). This is combined with cutting edge characterisation of the chemical and physical properties of biochars, including X-ray microtomography. 

Projects website:

More information: Simon Jeffery

Postdoc project of Ingrid Lubbers: "Functional diversity of soil invertebrates: a potential tool to reduce N2O emission? "

Soil biota play a crucial role in the mineralization of nutrients from organic material. However, they can thereby increase emissions of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O). Our current lack of understanding of the factors controlling N2O emissions is impeding the development of effective mitigation strategies. The challenge is to control N2O emissions from production systems without reducing crop yield. Diversity of soil fauna may play a key role: high functional diversity of soil invertebrates (FDSI) is known to stimulate nitrogen mineralisation and thereby plant growth. It is still unknown whether high FDSI can concurrently diminish N2O emissions. Experimental studies are contradictory, reporting both increasing and decreasing emissions by single faunal species. However, faunal species occur in communities of interacting species. We will therefore study the effect of FDSI on N2O emissions from agricultural soils. We hypothesize that increased FDSI decreases N2O emissions by facilitating more complete denitrification through 1) stimulating the activity of denitrifying microbes; and 2) affecting the distribution of micro and macro pores, creating more anaerobic reaction sites. To test this hypothesis, we will establish invertebrate food webs in soil microcosms with different levels of functional diversity. We will use state-of-the-art molecular analysis to quantify denitrifier gene expression, and X-ray tomography to analyse fine-scale changes in soil structure. This integration of soil biological and -physical impacts on N2O emissions will enable us to resolve whether FDSI can promote nitrogen mineralisation without increasing N2O emissions. This is essential for the development of effective mitigation strategies. 

More information: Ingrid Lubbers



Postdoc project Diego Abalos: “Plant ecology for nitrous oxide mitigation and sustainable productivity (ECONOMY)”

Nitrogen (N) application to plants causes agriculture to be the dominant source of nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas as well as a major threat to the ozone layer. Our recent paper (Abalos et al., 2014) shows that if N is applied to plant combinations with complementary root traits and high biomass productivity, N2O emissions can be diminished due to increased plant N uptake. Based on the current understanding of the microbiology behind soil N2O emissions and of plant-trait based ecology, the 'ECONOMY' project aims to build on these findings and develop a novel N2O mitigation strategy. We will use trait-based ecology to reveal how plants and plant interactions can be used to reduce N2O emissions in a context of climate change related disturbances. Employing an approach that ranges from the microcosm scale to regional simulation, the project will ultimately establish a mechanistic understanding of the plant traits affecting N2O emissions while taking into account the provision of other ecosystem services.

Reference:  Abalos D., De Deyn G.B., Kuyper T.W., Van Groenigen JW. 2014. Plant species identity surpasses species richness as a key driver of N2O emissions from grassland. Global Change Biology 20, 265-275.

More information: Diego Abalos



PhD project Jeffrey van Lent: “The effect of land-use change on soil greenhouse gas emissions from tropical peat forest of the Peruvian Amazon”

Tropical lowland peatlands are considered as high priorities in climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies worldwide, mainly due to their exceptionally high carbon stock in combination with high deforestation rates. However, even though large bodies of tropical peat have been found elsewhere, estimates of stocks and potential losses after land-use change are lacking outside Southeast Asia. This study is the first in its kind to intensively measure carbon and nitrogen dynamics for such a system in Peru, outside Southeast Asia. Additionally, current available studies on LUC and tropical peat tend to focus on deforestation and conversion of land uses, while carbon and nitrogen dynamics following degradation are less well known. I will intensively measure CO2, CH4, N2O fluxes and carbon stocks changes in intact and degraded sites in the Peruvian Amazon; performing experiments to unravel driving factors between temporal and spatial dynamics of GHG fluxes. Further, I will scale up results to the ecosystem level, and will quantify and predict the impact of tropical peat swamp degradation. This project is part of the Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Project (SWAMP,, a collaboration between the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the USDA Forest Service (USFS).

Video:, more general:

More information: Jeffrey van Lent



PhD project Mart Ros: "Improving utilisation of soil phosphorus on dairy farms"

Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for the growth of plants. Due to its immobile character in soil, it frequently is a growth-limiting factor for agricultural crops. In Dutch agriculture, farmers used to apply large quantities of phosphorus in the form of animal manure and inorganic fertilisers to maintain the availability of phosphorus for plant uptake and thereby to ensure high crop yields. Due to environmental legislation and increasing fertiliser costs, phosphorus application levels have decreased. In this project I look, within the system of a dairy farm, for ways to increase phosphorus use efficiency and plant availability under a limited phosphorus input. I do experiments focussing on: selection of different grass species, earthworms and their effect on phosphorus availability, and the importance of manure quality for plant phosphorus uptake. I also work with advance surface complexation models to better understand the interactions between manure, soil and plants in relation to phosphorus.

More information: Mart Ros



PhD Project of Syed Faiz-ul Islam: Reduced greenhouse gas emissions from intensified rice production systems"

Rice (Oryza sativa) is one of the most important agricultural staples; it feeds more than half of the world population. Rice production systems are vulnerable to climate change impacts as well as being a major contributor to greenhouse gas (methane and nitrous oxide) emissions. The two main challenges for rice production systems are increasing production to accommodate the growing world population, while simultaneously reducing GHG emissions. In a series of lab, greenhouse and field experiment, I investigate the potential of a range of organic fertilizers (manure, straw, compost, digestate, biochar), mineral fertilizers in relation to water management strategies to improve yield-scaled GHG emissions. I also investigate the socio-economic drivers for farmers to adopt climate smart management options. My project is a cooperation between Wageningen University, The University of Copenhagen (Denmark) and the IRRI research institute in The Philippines.  

More information:  Syed Faiz-ul Islam    




As a teacher, next to reaching the learning objectives of a course, I aim to convey a specific attitude towards science to the students. I try to show that I am enthusiastic about my work; that science is not the rather sterile, unfailing march towards truth that textbooks sometimes make it out to be, but that it is instead a messy process, done by real human beings with their own interests, obsessions, failures and triumphs. I try to illustrate this with examples from my own work, as well as that of other people in the scientific field. I do this not to degrade the scientific profession, but rather to make it appear more tangible and real. Most of all, I aspire to convince my students that science is incredibly interesting and great fun. 

I coordinate the course Biological Interactions in Soils (SOQ-32806). Next to that, I teach modules in the courses Nutrient Management (SOQ-31806) and The Carbon Dilemma (SOQ-35306).

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