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  • Position: Senior scientist, AgResearch Lincoln.
    Field: Soil ecology

    Dr Nicole Schon is a senior scientist at AgResearch. Her research focuses on soil health and the role of earthworms on soil.

    As part of her work, Nicole spends a lot of time outdoors, getting messy with earthworms and soil at farm sites all over New Zealand. This suits her nicely! Nicole grew up on a dairy farm in the Waikato and has always enjoyed being on farms and in the outdoors.

    After she finished school, Nicole decided on a double major in biology and earth sciences for her BSc at Massey University. She enjoyed both of these subject areas, and a project exploring the influence of fertiliser and stocking rates on soil biology captured her interest for her honours project. Nicole continued with this theme for her PhD in ecology at Massey University. She looked at how the soil biology is influenced by farm management practices and how this related to the services these organisms provide, such as nutrient cycling, organic matter incorporation and the creation of soil pores.

    Don’t treat the soil like dirt!

    Nicole used to spend time at AgResearch Palmerston North, keeping an eye on her projects there, such as looking at the amount of carbon that may be incorporated and stored by deep-burrowing earthworms, with the potential of introducing these earthworms to pastures where they are absent in order to improve carbon content.

    Nicole is now based at AgResearch Lincoln and her research focuses on soil health in the context of the farm system and the role of earthworms on the soil environment. Nicole really enjoys the variety her job offers, from practical fieldwork to writing journal articles and presenting at conferences. She particularly enjoys the challenge of trying to understand the complexities of the soil ecosystem via a range of different methods, including controlled studies and large-scale field research projects.

    Related content

    Scientific investigations can run for a few months to a few decades. They can be small and tightly controlled or much larger studies involving real-world conditions. Observation is crucial to a scientist’s work and observation comes in many forms. Both of these articles feature Nicole and Dr Trish Fraser, another soil scientist.

    Useful links

    Eco system engineer is an 2017 article and interview from RNZ about Nicole's work with worms.

    In this 2022 Stuff news article Nicole pleads for more attention to be paid earthworms.

    Follow Nicole on twitter @nzwormdoctor.

    This article is based on information current in 2012 and updated in 2023.

      Published 12 June 2012, Updated 18 May 2023 Referencing Hub articles
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