Mountain heights, hidden depths: unearthing alpine soil biodiversity

The alpine zone on Scottish mountain summits includes some of our most important natural and undisturbed habitats, but these are being impacted by climate change and other factors such as air pollution. The myriad of organisms, both large and small, which live in soil are crucial for the functioning of habitats and influence important processes such as carbon storage and provision of clean water. In the alpine zone soil biodiversity has hardly been explored, we know very little about the species living in these soils and potentially we could lose them before we even know that they are there.

This project aims to radically change this by using DNA sequencing to detect and identify organisms in soil samples collected from the summits of the 282 Munros (3,000 ft summits) across Scotland. This will enable us to develop a picture of how soil biodiversity varies across Scotland’s alpine zone, to identify areas of high soil biodiversity, and to create a baseline against which to measure future change. To meet this mountainous challenge, we are reaching out to the hill-going community, asking hillwalkers to become expedition scientists for the day and to gather small soil samples while out walking. DNA will then be extracted from the samples and sequenced to enable us to build a first ever 'map' of soil biodiversity across Scotland's alpine zone.

The project builds on a pilot study in 2021 where volunteers collected samples from 55 Munros in the Cairngorm National Park to look for alpine fungi. We discovered 2,748 species of soil fungi including new and undescribed species.

We are looking for hillwalkers and mountaineers to volunteer as citizen scientists and to collect three small soil samples from a Munro of their choice. Sample collection is taking place from June to September in 2023 and 2024. Updates on our progress will be provided on this website and, at the end of the project, all volunteers will be invited to an online seminar where we will share our findings - there are sure to be many exciting new discoveries!

How to get involved

Each Munro is available on this website to be adopted by a volunteer, who will then be sent a Munro-specific sampling kit that contains instructions and guidance on where and how to collect the soil samples and a reply-paid envelope to return the samples for sequencing.

In order to adopt a Munro, you first need to register as a volunteer on the project using the "Volunteer Here" link below. During registration we ask you to carefully read and acknowledge the participant information sheet, particularly the sections about health and safety and our use of your personal data, and agree to the terms of participation.

You will receive an automated acknowledgement email when you register on the website (if it doesn't arrive please check your spam folder). We will then activate your account to enable you to login to the website. You will not be able to adopt any of the Munros until your account has been activated. Activation may take a couple of days, particularly over the weekend (but check your spam folder if you don't receive an email from us). We will send you an email with a one-time link to login to the website and set your password.  Once you have your account set up you will be able to login at the link below and select a Munro to sample using the "Adopt a Munro" tab at the top of this page.

**Thanks for your interest in our alpine soil biodiversity project**

We have had tremendous interest from the hillwalking community, so much so that all the available Munros have now been adopted. We have now closed the registration process, to avoid disappointment. Those who have registered, but have not yet adopted a Munro, will be notified if any adopted Munros become available. Thank you again for your interest, we look forward to sharing our results with you.


To register as a volunteer



For volunteers already registered



Having problems?

If you have any problems with using the site, or have questions about the sampling, please contact us.

Who is funding the project?

The project is funded by the Scottish Government Rural and Environmental Science and Analytical Services (RESAS) as part of the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Strategic Research Programme, project JHI-D4-3 Scotland’s biodiversity: People, Data and Monitoring.

Who is involved?

The project is led by Dr Andrea Britton and Dr Andy Taylor.