Excalibur plans to enhance the knowledge on soil biodiversity dynamics and its synergistic effects with prebiotic and probiotic approaches in horticulture, using a multi-actor approach. To pursue this aim, new multifunctional soil microbial inoculants (bio-inocula) and bio-effectors will be tested on three model crops of economic importance (tomato, apple, strawberry) under different experimental and open-field conditions across Europe, and the feed-feedback effect of/on native biodiversity monitored. In order to go beyond the multitude of studies on the links between soil biodiversity and plant health, Excalibur will develop a comprehensive strategy of soil management improving the effectiveness of biocontrol and bio fertilization practices in agriculture.

For this purpose Excalibur plans to:

  1. focus on multi-scale interactions between plants and belowground organisms to exploit the potential of multifunctional bio-inocula and bio-effectors;
  2. optimize the formulation and the application methods of these products based on native soil biodiversity dynamics;
  3. develop a strategy to improve the exploitation of soil biodiversity interactions with bio-effectors and bio-inocula by assessing their impacts on crops and biodiversity under contrasting agricultural management practices (conventional, organic) and biotic/abiotic stress conditions;
  4. build a multi-criteria model to assess soil biodiversity status of cropping systems for a more efficient use of bio-effectors and bio-inocula;
  5. develop technical tools to monitor the persistence and dispersion of bio-inocula under field conditions for eco-toxicological and agronomical purposes;
  6. evaluate the effects of the new strategy on economy, environment quality and ecosystem functions;
  7. disseminate results to all stakeholders with a dynamic and comprehensive methodology and encourage the adoption of best practices derived from the new strategy at local, regional and global level.

Excalibur’s multi-actor consortium ensures that the project approach covers research and innovation actions, whereby three types of activities can be distinguished:

  • research activities in terms of comprehensive analyses of plant-soil-microbe interaction mechanisms driving plant response to biotic/abiotic stress and crop production (WP5) to develop new agro-ecological practices on both farm level (WP3) and on the technological level in organic fertilizer/pesticide industry (WP2). All project results will be put into a wider research context of social, economic and environmental assessments (WP1, WP3, WP6).
  • development of innovative biodiversity-driven soil management options which serve as sustainable agriecological prototypes for enhancing the efficacy and application of biocontrol and bio fertilization practices in horticultural farming by exploiting the native belowground biodiversity at various scales (WP1, WP3, WP4).
  • demonstration of innovative technologies (currently at various TRL, see Table 1) for evaluating the persistence of applied bio products and their impact on soil biodiversity (WP3, WP5) and enhancing the formulations of already available beneficial microbial strains with different bio-effectors or bio-inocula for the selected cropping systems (WP2).

For more information on Excalibur’s Work packages (WPs), please visit the Work Packages section.