Maria Jesus Gutierrez Gines
Her main field of research is the phytomanagement of biowaste and degraded soils – or more simply – using plants to solve environmental problems.
Maria's work involves numerous disciplines, such as soil science, plant science, soil-plant interactions, soil microbiology, ecotoxicology, ecological restoration, soil and water interactions, and environmental education.
She is currently coordinating projects to use New Zealand native vegetation – mainly mānuka and kānuka – to restore river and lake margins, in order to improve water quality affected by farming activities and biowaste discharges. This work is attracting a lot of interest because of mānuka and kānuka’s antimicrobial properties. Both species can actively reduce pathogen and nitrate loads from contaminated run-offs and effluents from farms and biowaste treated soils.
Working with local communities, iwi, regional and district councils, Maria is carrying out field experiments at Lake Waikare in the Waikato and Lake Wairarapa in the Wairarapa. These projects are funded by ESR's Strategic Science Investment Funding (SSIF), as well as the Waikato River Authority, Waikato Regional Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council and the Ministry for the Environment.
The wonder of plants has never stopped surprising Maria. In her PhD in Alcala University, and the Centre for Environmental Sciences, CSIC, Spain, she studied the plant communities that naturally thrived in soils highly contaminated by trace elements (cadmium, lead, arsenic, zinc, copper) and organic contaminants (like PCBs, and PAHs), and how to use those plants –and their associated microorganisms – to remediate those soils.
During her Postdoctorate at Lincoln University, New Zealand, she proved how pioneer native plants that usually grow in very low fertility environments, can grow on the biowaste-amended soils. She even demonstrated that some of these plants “choose” to grow in biowaste if they are given the choice.
Maria has also worked in other research centres such as Hasselt University (Belgium), L’Ecole National de Travaux Agricoles de Clermont-Ferrand (France), Colorado State University (USA) and the Institute of Socio-Educative Research (Dominican Republic).
Maria's ResearchGate profile(external link).
More information about ESR's mānuka and kānuka project to improve water quality.
Read about ESR's involvement with the Centre for Integrated Biowaste Research (CIBR)(external link) - dedicated to finding sustainable reuse options for New Zealand's biowaste.