Professor Jonathan R Leake

Dr Jonathan Leake

Tel: +44 (0)114 222 0055


Room C53, Alfred Denny Building


BSc (1984) University of Bristol
PhD (1988) University of Sheffield
NERC Postdoctoral Research Assistant, Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield (1988-1990)
Temporary Lecturer, Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield (1990)
Lecturer, Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield (1990-2003)
Senior Lecturer, Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield (2003-2006)
Reader in Plant-Soil interactions, Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield (2007-present)

Key Research Interests

Images of research

  1. Plant-to-soil carbon fluxes.
    Quantitative analysis of carbon fluxes from plants to soil in grasslands and forests, and the storage of carbon in soils and vegetation. Development of methods for carbon budgeting in urban greenspace and its potential contribution to sustainable urban environments.
  2. Mycorrhizal fungi- their networks of power and influence - from nano-to-global scales.
    Use carbon isotope tracers to quantify energy passing from plants to their symbiotic root-infecting mycorrhizal fungi and how it is used by these fungi: (i) To drive mineral weathering, (ii) in nutrient and carbon cycling and (iii) to empower interactions with other soil organisms (fungi, plants, and fungal-feeding collembolans).
  3. Myco-heterotrophy: plants parasitic on fungi.
    About 10% of all plant species are myco-heterotrophic for part of their life, including most orchids. Over 400 species are fully myco-heterotrophic. My interests are in understanding their evolution, adaptive features, life-cycles, ecology, physiology, functioning and their critical fungal partners.
  4. Specialised root functioning.
    Root adaptations as an alternative strategy to mycorrhiza- spatial and temporal foraging precision and uptake of phosphorus by dauciform roots in sedges.
  5. Pollution impacts on plants, soil biology and chemistry, and health.
    Impacts of long-term nitrogen pollution on grassland soil and plant ecology, and recovery following reduced pollution inputs. Health risks and benefits associated with urban food production. Effects of urban greenspace and soils in trapping and sequestering black carbon.

Professional Activities

  • Advisor to the Editors of the New Phytologist (1997-present)
  • Editorial board of Mycological Research (1999-2003)
  • British Ecological Society Policy Advisory Group on Climate Change (2007-present)
  • Phosphorus in Forest Ecosystems. Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Workshop Berlin 17-18 June 2010.
  • Soil Phosphorus. Australian Research Council-New Zealand Network for Vegetation Function, Working Group 64, Perth, Western Austalia, December 2009.
  • National Science Foundation USA - Workshop: Frontiers in Exploration of the Critical Zone II: Biological Aspects of Weathering, Washington DC, October 2009.
  • External examiner for PhD candidates at University College Dublin, 2010; Imperial College, London 2009; University of Nottingham, 2009; University College Dublin, 2008; Manchester Metropolitan University 2007; The University of Lund, Sweden 2004; The University of York, UK 2002; The University of Western Sydney Australia, 2000; and The University of Durham, 1997.

Invited Lectures

Colonization of the terrestrial environment. 25th New Phytologist/Colston Research Society Symposium, Bristol, UK 2010
Goldschmidt 2009, Davos, Switzerland
Opening Plenary at Geochemistry of Earths´s Surface, London, 2008
Keynote lecture: British Mycological Society Annual Conservation and Taxonomy Meeting in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 2006
Keynote lecture on Ericoid mycorrhizas and carbon cycling, International meeting on roots, mycorrhizas and their external mycelia in carbon dynamics in forest soil, Rovaniemi, Finland, 2006
British Mycological Society Meeting, Fungi in the Environment, University of Nottingham, UK, 2004
Opening Plenary at the fourth International Symposium on Mycorrhiza, Montreal, Canada, 2003


I am Tutor for the Biology with a Year Abroad degrees, and member of the Departmental Teaching Committee. My teaching interests are in interdisciplinary science spanning between biology and the environment with particular focus on biogeochemical cycles of carbon nitrogen and phosphorus, plant-soil interactions, Earth-surface processes driven by plants and microorganisms, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, human impacts on terrestrial ecosystems and sustainability.

At Level 2 I teach and coordinate APS255 (Environmental Interpretation Field Course) which is an interdisciplinary residential field course based at the edge of the Connemara region of Western Ireland. The course involves in-depth study of habitats, landscape-shaping processes and human impacts on natural ecosystems, providing wide-ranging training in methods for field description, sampling, quantification and interpretation of ecosystems and the environment.

At Level 3 I coordinate and teach two modules:

  • APS346 (Sustainable Agro-Ecosystems) reviews the current threats to sustainable food production and natural ecosystems caused by intensive agriculture and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources. A major focus is on the foundational role of soils in providing the underpinning support to terrestrial ecosystems and agriculture, and the way soils have been abused and damaged by human actions.
  • APS332 (Issues in Environmental Science) is a seminar and discussion-group based module that considers human impacts upon the environment and the sustainability of the planet, combining reviews of scientific evidence with public and professional opinions and attitudes.

I supervise Level 3 Projects (APS330) in a wide range of subjects concerning plant-environment interactions, nutrient cycling and biogeochemistry, and Level 3 Dissertations (APS331) in topics relating to symbiosis, food security, sustainability, urban ecology, and agro-ecosystem functioning.

I have supervised Level 4 MBiolSci and MRes students on projects involving plant root adaptations, host genotype variation in mycorrhiza functioning and soil carbon sequestration.

Research Links and Collaborations

Prof. Sir David Read FRS - University of Sheffield, UK
Dr. Duncan Cameron - University of Sheffield, UK
Prof. David Beerling - University of Sheffield, UK
Prof Margaret Bell and Dr Anil Namdeo - University of Newcastle, UK
Prof. Kevin Gaston - University of Exeter, UK
Prof. Kevin Lomas - University of Loughborough, UK
Prof. Mike Burrell - University of Sheffield, UK
Prof. Steven Banwart - University of Sheffield, UK
Prof. Vala Ragnarsdottir - University of Reykjavik, Iceland
Prof. Lianne Benning - University of Leeds, UK
Dr Terry McMaster - University of Bristol, UK
Dr. Martin I Bidartondo - Imperial College and Kew Gardens, UK

Postdoctoral Research Fellows

Dr Jill Edmondson
Measurement, Mapping, Modelling, Management (4M): An evidence-based methodology for understanding and shrinking the urban carbon footprint. Quantifying the urban soil and vegetation carbon pools within the city of Leicester (EPSRC SUE2 consortium grant jointly with Prof KJ Gaston).

Research Students

Kirsty Elliott
Owen Hayman (co-supervised with Professor DJ Beerling)
Joseph Llanos (co-supervised with Professor P Warren)
Magdalena Matysek (co-supervised with Dr D Childsd)

Research Technicians

Irene Johnson
Research group technician maintaining laboratory fungal culture collection and coordinating mycorrhizal syntheses and isotope tracer studies. Deputy radiation protection officer. Departmental core funding.

Adele Duran
Biologically-Mediated Weathering of Minerals from Nanometre Scale to Environmental Systems. Funding NERC and WUN Weathering Science Consortium.

Dr David A Johnson
NERC grant jointly with Dr Gareth Phoenix and Dr Duncan Cameron.

Stefanie Tille
Functional and evolutionary significance of symbiotic fungal associations in lower land plants (NERC-funded project with Prof DJ Beerling and Dr DD Cameron).

Former Members of Jonathan Leake's Research Group

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