Diana Wall, Soil Ecologist
From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2011. Profile circa 2004.
Distinguished Professor, Biology Department, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO
Director, School of Global Environmental Sustainability
1971 PhD, Plant Pathology, University of Kentucky, Lexington.
N.D. B.S., Biology, University of Kentucky, Lexington.
Dr. Wall was president of ESA in 1999-2000. Among many honors, she is a Fellow of ESA and a member of the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. She has a page on Wikipedia. Dr. Wall is the recipient of ESA’s 2017 Eminent Ecologist Award.
“My major professor was very good. He let me explore, and let me find out that I have a creative mind. He had the patience to let me try experiments that didn’t work, so I could learn from that process. After I gained experience, things were wide open—I started creating what I wanted to do.”
That freedom has enabled Diana to study a broad range of topics from biological diversity in Antarctica, soil diseases affecting citrus trees in California and soil ecology in the deserts of the southwest. Each of these projects seeks to understand some aspect of the ecological interactions that first sparked her interest in ecology. “The questions that most interest me have to do with how soil animals affect the rest of the globe.”
Currently, Diana and her associates are studying the ecology of nematodes (roundworms) living in Antarctic Dry Valley soils. They are interested in how nematodes survive in these harsh cold desert conditions, and have found that the worms go into an inactive state called anhydrobiosis, and only revive when environmental conditions are improved or when water is added. One idea Diana and her team are investigating is whether nematodes in the anhydrobiotic state can ‘escape’ unfavorable conditions by being blown on the wind to other, more suitable sites.
All this work, from developing the study questions to designing field equipment, relies on the investigators’ creativity and curiosity. Diana’s research involves scientists from many different specializations, ranging from ecologists who understand interactions on an ecosystem scale to experts who identify plants and animals living in the soil. She greatly enjoys working in the field, but she also gets to interact with students and post-doctoral scientists at her university. She has been a leader in the ecological field as well, having served as president of the Society of Nematologists, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, and elected to be President of the Ecological Society of America for 1999-2000. Diana admits, however, that “field work is the best part of my job. Once I get to the field, it’s just fantastic. It’s like playing in a playpen.”
Obviously, Diana is enthusiastic about recommending her chosen field to others. “This is a tremendous challenge. Ecologists work to understand nature and to stem the tide of environmental degradation. You will interact with dedicated scientists and non-scientists on curiosity-driven research, and you’ll see how that applies to solving larger global environmental problems.”