Contact Professor Wilfred Otten

Areas of expertise

  • Digital Agriculture
  • Soil
  • Soil Resources


Wilfred Otten joined Cranfield University in May 2016 as Professor of Soil Biophysics. Before that he worked 9 years at Abertay University in Dundee as Chair of Biophysics of Soil Ecosystems and co-Director of the Scottish Informatics Mathematics Biology and Statistics Centre where he developed innovative methods to characterize soil structure. Prior to that he worked for 16 years in the Epidemiology and Modeling Group of the Department of Plant Sciences at Cambridge University working on invasion and persistence of soil borne fungal plant diseases. He has a degree in Agricultural Engineering with special reference to Soil Science and Fertilizer Use (Wageningen University, The Netherlands) and a PhD degree in Horticultural Sciences, focusing on closed fertigation systems (Wageningen University, The Netherlands). He was the President of the British Society of Soil Science (2017-2018), and is a Fellow of the Institute of Soil Science (F.I. Soil Sci.).

Current activities

Professor Otten has a general research interest in physical, biological and chemical processes in soil. His current and past research has equipped him with multidisciplinary expertise in soil physics, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, epidemiology and mathematical, modelling. He is expert in the characterisation of micro habitats in soil. Research techniques include soil physical methods including the use of X-ray CT to characterise internal pore geometries and root growth. He applies this expertise to develop a quantitative, integrative and predictive approach that forwards our understanding of soil processes to enable sustainable management. A selection of recent projects includes:

  • FUSED - Functionality of Urban Soils supporting Ecosystem service Delivery. Sponsor: NERC (2019-2022).

    This project in partnership with the University of Essex will examine the links between the physical and chemical structure of urban soil, the biodiversity it contains, the ecosystem processes and functions this supports and the delivery of four key ecosystem services (nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, waste detoxification, and primary productivity). To achieve this we will focus on existing gradients of urbanisation in SE England which provides the full catalogue of urban soil types. 

  • Resilience of belowground fungal communities: a mechanistic and trait based approach. Sponsor: NERC (2018-2019).

    Soil structure holds the key to life in soil, regulates many ecosystem services and ultimately underpins sustainable life on Earth. This project integrates biological, physical and chemical processes into a theoretical framework that predicts biodiversity and links this to ecosystem functioning, exemplified by fungi and evolution of CO2, respectively. This framework will provide new insights how resilient soils are in maintaining diversity and functioning and what can be done to enhance this resilience. 

  • Using roots to bioengineer soils. Sponsor: BBSRC 2018-2021.

    Cover crops are a way for UK growers to improve soil health by maintaining minimum soil cover, thus minimising the land management required to limit erosion and maintain organic matter levels. They are fast-growing species, planted between two cash crops, which have the ability to boost soil health and reduce the negative impact of agro-management on the environment. In this BBSRC funded project we ask the question how best to exploit root traits of cover crops to improve soil health. A series of root properties (e.g. rooting depth, root hair density) will be carefully determined for 7 cover crops, and we use a DNA technique, qPCR, to determine the proportions of root biomass of each species within a plant community to determine which mixture of cover crops offers most benefits to ecosystem services.

  • Phenotyping and soil health to address industrial challenges. Sponsors: IUK and industry (2021-2022).

    Using our cutting edge Agri-Tech funded Phenotyping and Soil Health Facilities I work directly with stakeholders to develop and test innovative technologies to improve soil and crop health. The assets are able to control the soil and weather variability that often complicates the interpretation of field trial results and offer unique pilot scale facilities to industrial partners. Projects range from using sensors to detect the early onset of plant diseases; testing the use of ultra-fine nano-bubbles in agriculture to reduce inputs; reducing variability in dissipation studies; and optimising soil profiles to redesign landscapes. 


Research funding has been obtained from a variety of sources including BBSRC, NERC, EPSRC, IUK, ANR and industry.


Articles In Journals

Conference Papers

  • Falconer RE, Houston AN, Portell X & Otten O (2019) Hardware acceleration of reaction-diffusion systems: A guide to optimisation of pattern formation algorithms using OpenACC. In: 2019 Spring Simulation Conference (SpringSim 19), Tucson, 29 April - 2 May 2019.
  • Otten W, Harris K, Hall D, Young IM, Ritz K & Gilligan CA (2003) Impact of structural heterogeneity on growth of Rhizoctonia solani in soil.. In: BES Soil Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function,, Lancaster, U.K., 1 January 2003.
  • Otten W, Harris K, Hall D, Young IM, Ritz K & Gilligan CA (2002) The heterogeneous soil environment: are there preferential pathways for fungal spread?. In: Influence of Abiotic and Biotic Factors on Biocontrol Agents: 7th Meeting of the IOBC/OILB Working Group on Biological Control of Fungal and Bacterial Plant Pathogens, Kusadasi, Turkey, 1 January 2002.
  • Otten W, Harris K, Young IM, Ritz K & Gilligan CA (2002) Soil structure, fungal exploration and consequences for biocontrol. In: Influence of Abiotic and Biotic Factors on Biocontrol Agents: 7th Meeting of the IOBC/OILB Working Group on Biological Control of Fungal and Bacterial Plant Pathogens, Kusadasi, Turkey, 1 January 2002.
  • Harris K, Ritz K, Young IM, Gilligan CA & Otten W (2001) Effect of soil bulk density on growth and spatial organisation of pathogenic fungi. In: ISME 9 Interactions in the Microbial World, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1 January 2001.


  • Otten W (eds), (2021) Advances in measuring soil health, Cambridge: Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing.