Peter Somerville


Peter’s first selfie! (forgot to smile…)

My research focuses on methods to improve degraded urban soils so that they might better support tree establishment and growth. Large trees provide enormous benefits to urban centres yet the space in which to plant these trees is becoming scarcer, as urban centres are becoming larger.  In order to achieve the benefits that trees can provide it is necessary to plant trees into harsh sites.  These harsh sites may include road sides, industrial sites and other disturbed and degraded land.  Often the soil conditions at these sites are not suitable for large trees.  The deep addition of organic matter may help improve these degraded soils, however, changes may not be permanent.

This PhD study focuses on the use of biochar made from eucalypt hardwood waste and municipal green waste as amendments to improve degraded soil.  I am interested in the interaction, and possible synergism, between the green waste and the biochar when placed into the soil.  Degraded soils are often low in organic matter and have physical, chemical and biological characteristics that are unsuitable for tree growth.  I want to find out whether the organic interventions can change the soil characteristics and how long these changes might last.  An interesting section of the study looks at the role mycorrhizal fungi has when interacting with the organic waste amendments.  Different tree species form different fungal associations and these may impact the effectiveness of the organic treatments.

Positive outcomes may result in effective soil treatments that use inexpensive waste products to improve degraded soils in our urban centres.


Brief Biography before PhD
After completing a level 3 Certificate in Horticulture/Landscaping from NMIT to help in his landscaping business Peter discovered a passion for academic research.  Since then he has studied Garden Design with Andrew Laidlaw and completed his Master Degree in Urban Horticulture from the University of Melbourne.  Currently Peter is undertaking a PhD at the University of Melbourne examining techniques to improve degraded urban soils so that they may better support tree establishment and growth.  Previously, Peter spent 20 years as a professional rowing coach in Australia and Great Britain.