Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory

Fort Collins, CO, United States

Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory

Fort Collins, CO, United States
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Ciais P.,CEA Saclay Nuclear Research Center | Dolman A.J.,VU University Amsterdam | Bombelli A.,Euro Mediterranean Center for Climate Change | Duren R.,Jet Propulsion Laboratory | And 56 more authors.
Biogeosciences | Year: 2014

A globally integrated carbon observation and analysis system is needed to improve the fundamental understanding of the global carbon cycle, to improve our ability to project future changes, and to verify the effectiveness of policies aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration. Building an integrated carbon observation system requires transformational advances from the existing sparse, exploratory framework towards a dense, robust, and sustained system in all components: anthropogenic emissions, the atmosphere, the ocean, and the terrestrial biosphere. The paper is addressed to scientists, policymakers, and funding agencies who need to have a global picture of the current state of the (diverse) carbon observations. We identify the current state of carbon observations, and the needs and notional requirements for a global integrated carbon observation system that can be built in the next decade. A key conclusion is the substantial expansion of the ground-based observation networks required to reach the high spatial resolution for CO2 and CH4 fluxes, and for carbon stocks for addressing policy-relevant objectives, and attributing flux changes to underlying processes in each region. In order to establish flux and stock diagnostics over areas such as the southern oceans, tropical forests, and the Arctic, in situ observations will have to be complemented with remote-sensing measurements. Remote sensing offers the advantage of dense spatial coverage and frequent revisit. A key challenge is to bring remote-sensing measurements to a level of long-term consistency and accuracy so that they can be efficiently combined in models to reduce uncertainties, in synergy with ground-based data. Bringing tight observational constraints on fossil fuel and land use change emissions will be the biggest challenge for deployment of a policy-relevant integrated carbon observation system. This will require in situ and remotely sensed data at much higher resolution and density than currently achieved for natural fluxes, although over a small land area (cities, industrial sites, power plants), as well as the inclusion of fossil fuel CO2 proxy measurements such as radiocarbon in CO2 and carbon-fuel combustion tracers. Additionally, a policy-relevant carbon monitoring system should also provide mechanisms for reconciling regional top-down (atmosphere-based) and bottom-up (surface-based) flux estimates across the range of spatial and temporal scales relevant to mitigation policies. In addition, uncertainties for each observation data-stream should be assessed. The success of the system will rely on long-term commitments to monitoring, on improved international collaboration to fill gaps in the current observations, on sustained efforts to improve access to the different data streams and make databases interoperable, and on the calibration of each component of the system to agreed-upon international scales. © 2014 Author(s).

News Article | March 2, 2017

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) will present the 2017 awards recognizing outstanding contributions to ecology in new discoveries, teaching, sustainability, diversity, and lifelong commitment to the profession during the Society's Annual Meeting in Portland, Ore. The awards ceremony will take place during the Scientific Plenary on Monday, August 7, at 8 AM in the Oregon Ballroom, Oregon Convention Center. Learn more about ESA awards on our home website. The Eminent Ecologist Award honors a senior ecologist for an outstanding body of ecological work or sustained ecological contributions of extraordinary merit. Soil ecologist Diana Wall, the founding director of the Colorado State University's School of Global Environmental Sustainability, is world-renowned for uncovering the importance of below-ground processes. Best known for her outstanding quarter century of research in the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica, one of the more challenging environments of the planet. Her research has revealed fundamental soil processes from deserts and forests to grasslands and agricultural ecosystems to New York City's Central Park. Dr. Wall's extensive collaborative work seeks to understand how the living component of soil contributes to ecosystem processes and human wellbeing--and to in turn uncover how humans impact soils, from local to global scales. In landmark studies, she revealed the key role of nematodes and other tiny animals as drivers of decomposition rates and carbon cycling. The biodiversity in soils, she found, influences ecosystem functioning and resilience to human disturbance, including climate change. She demonstrated that the biodiversity belowground can at times be decoupled from biodiversity aboveground. Her focus on nematodes in soils in very harsh environments, from the cold, dry Antarctic to hot, dry deserts, opened up a perspective on how life copes with extreme environments. She has a laudable record of publishing excellent papers in top-ranked scientific journals. Dr. Wall has played a vital role as an ecological leader, chairing numerous national and international committees and working groups and serving as president of the Ecological Society of America in 1999. She is a Fellow of ESA, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Society of Nematologists. In 2013, she received the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement for her outspoken efforts as an ambassador for the environmental and economic importance of soils and ecology. Currently, she is scientific chair of the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative, which works to advance soil biodiversity for use in policy and management of terrestrial ecosystems. Dr. Wall is well-respected in her role as mentor of young scientists, over several generations, and as a communicator of science outside the usual academic arenas. Odum Award recipients demonstrate their ability to relate basic ecological principles to human affairs through teaching, outreach, and mentoring activities.? Kathleen Weathers is a senior scientist and the G.Evelyn Hutchinson chair of ecology at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, where she focuses on freshwater ecosystems. For more than a decade, she has been dedicated to advancing bottom-up network science, creating training opportunities for graduate students and tools for citizen science engagement. Her efforts strive to equip the next generation of ecologists and managers with the skills needed to protect freshwater resources. Dr Weathers played a guiding role in the formation of the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON), and currently acts as co-chair. A part of this international grassroots collaboration she helped develop Lake Observer, a crowd-sourcing App that streamlines the way that researchers and citizen scientists record water quality observations in lakes, rivers, and streams. Dr. Weathers has made it a priority to mentor students and early-career scientists participating in GLEON, with an eye toward diversity, inclusion, and instruction. She helped empower GLEON's student association, which contributes meaningfully to governance and training within the broader network. She also spearheaded the development of the GLEON Fellows Program, a two-year graduate immersion in data analysis, international collaboration, effective communication, and team science. The GLEON Fellows Program has emerged as a model for training initiatives in macrosystem ecology, and will affect the ecological community positively for decades to come, as participants carry their training forward to other institutions and endeavors. The Distinguished Service Citation recognizes long and distinguished volunteer service to ESA, the scientific community, and the larger purpose of ecology in the public welfare. Debra Peters is the founding editor-in-chief of ESA's newest journal, Ecosphere, created in 2010 to offer a rapid path to publication for research reports from across the spectrum of ecological science, including interdisciplinary studies that may have had difficulty finding a home within the scope of the existing ESA family of journals. In her hands the online-only, open-access journal has claimed a successful niche in the ecological publications landscape, expanding to publish over 400 manuscripts in 2016. Dr. Peters, an ecologist for the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research service's (USDA-ARS) Jornada Experimental Range and lead principal investigator for the Jornada Basin Long Term Ecological Research program in Las Cruces, New Mexico, has served on the editorial boards of ESA's journals Ecological Applications, Ecology and Ecological Monographs. She chaired the society's Rangeland Section, was a founding member and chair of the Southwest Chapter, and has served as member-at-large on the Governing Board. As program chair for the 98th Annual Meeting of the society, she inaugurated the wildly popular Ignite talks, which give speakers the opportunity to present conceptual talks that do not fit into the standard research presentation format. Dr. Peters has greatly contributed to the broader research enterprise as senior advisor to the chief scientist at the USDA, and as a member of the National Ecological Observatory Network's (NEON) Board of Directors. She has provided this quite amazing array of services in support of the society and her profession while maintaining an outstanding level of research productivity and scientific leadership in landscape-level, cross-scale ecosystem ecology. Many of her more than 100 research publication have been cited more than 100 times. Her fine record of research led to her election as a Fellow of ESA and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In all respects, Debra Peters exemplifies distinguished service to the ESA, and to science. ESA's Commitment to Human Diversity in Ecology award recognizes long-standing contributions of an individual towards increasing the diversity of future ecologists through mentoring, teaching, or outreach. Gillian Bowser, research scientist in Colorado State University's Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, is honored for her joyful and successful recruitment and retention of under-represented students to the study of ecology, to public service in support of the natural world, and to empowerment of women and minorities worldwide. The Cooper Award honors the authors of an outstanding publication in the field of geobotany, physiographic ecology, plant succession or the distribution of plants along environmental gradients. William S. Cooper was a pioneer of physiographic ecology and geobotany, with a particular interest in the influence of historical factors, such as glaciations and climate history, on the pattern of contemporary plant communities across landforms. University of Waterloo, Ontario professor Andrew Trant and colleagues at the University of Victoria and the Hakai Institute in British Columbia revealed a previously unappreciated historical influence on forest productivity: long-term residence of First Nations people. Counter to a more familiar story of damage to ecosystems inflicted by people and their intensive use of resources, the activities of native people on the Central Coast of British Columbia enhanced the fertility of the soil around habitation sites, leading to greater productivity of the dominant tree species, the economically and culturally valuable western redcedar (Thuja plicata Donn ex D. Don). Through a combination of airborne remote sensing and on-the-ground field work, the authors showed that forest height, width, canopy cover, and greenness increased on and near shell middens. They presented the first documentation of influence on forest productivity by the daily life activities of traditional human communities. The Mercer Award recognizes an outstanding and recently-published ecological research paper by young scientists. Biological invasions, and migrations of native species in response to climate change, are pressing areas of interest in this time of global change. Fragmentation of the landscape by natural and human-made barriers slows the velocity of spread, but it is not known how patchy habitat quality might influence the potential for evolution to accelerate invasions. Jennifer Williams, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, and colleagues implemented a creative experimental design using the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana that allowed them to disentangle ecological and evolutionary dynamics during population expansion. Some plant populations were allowed to evolve, while others were continually reset to their original genetic composition. The authors convincingly demonstrate that rapid evolution can influence the speed at which populations spread, especially in fragmented landscapes. The Sustainability Science Award recognizes the authors of the scholarly work that makes the greatest contribution to the emerging science of ecosystem and regional sustainability through the integration of ecological and social sciences. Sustainability challenges like air pollution, biodiversity loss, climate change, energy and food security, disease spread, species invasion, and water shortages and pollution are often studied, and managed, separately, although they the problems they present are interconnected. Jianguo Liu and colleagues provide a framework for addressing global sustainability challenges from a coupled human and natural systems approach that incorporates both socioeconomic and environmental factors. They review several recent papers that have quantified at times conflicting efforts to provide ecosystem services, when these efforts are examined in a global perspective. The authors argue for the need to quantify spillover systems and feedbacks and to integrate analyses over multiple spatial and temporal scales. This will likely require the development of new analytical frameworks both to understand the social ecological mechanisms involved and to inform management and policy decisions for global sustainability. The Innovation in Sustainability Science Award recognizes the authors of a peer-reviewed paper published in the past five years exemplifying leading-edge work on solution pathways to sustainability challenges. One of the biggest challenges facing development of effective policy to address sustainability issues is that the concepts and vocabulary used by scientists to define and promote sustainability rarely translate into effective policy, because they do not include measures of success. This challenge is particularly apparent in the concept of stability and resilience, terms which are frequently used in policy statements and have long been the subject of empirical and theoretical research in ecology, but for which there are no easily defined and quantified metrics. Ian Donohue and colleagues argue that much of the fault for this disconnect lies with the academic community. They summarize and analyze a number of examples to support their claim that ecologists have taken a one-dimensional approach to quantifying stability and disturbance when these are actually multi-dimensional processes. They argue that this has led to confused communication of the nature of stability, which contributes to the lack of adoption of clear policies. They propose three areas where future research is needed and make clear recommendations for better integrating the multidimensional nature of stability into research, policy and actions that should become a priority for all involved in sustainability science. The Whittaker Award recognizes an ecologist with an earned doctorate and an outstanding record of contributions in ecology who is not a U.S. citizen and who resides outside the United States. Petr Pyšek, the chair of the Department of Invasion Ecology at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, is honored for his pioneering and insightful work in invasion ecology. Dr. Pyšek is editor-in-chief of Preslia (Journal of the Czech Botanical Society) and serves on the editorial boards of Biological Invasions, Diversity and Distributions, Folia Geobotanica, and Perspectives on Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics. The Shreve award supplies $1,000-2,000 to support ecological research by graduate or undergraduate student members of ESA in the hot deserts of North America (Sonora, Mohave, Chihuahua, and Vizcaino). Daniel Winkler, a PhD student with Travis Huxman at University of California Irvine, studies the invasion of Sahara mustard (Brassica tournefortii) in the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan deserts. His dissertation focuses on determining the source populations of Sahara mustard and whether plasticity in functional traits is allowing the species to spread. Funds from the Forrest Shreve Student Research Fund will be used to process samples for leaf stable isotopes and elemental stoichiometry, allowing for a comparison of functional traits indicative of local adaptation and the species' plasticity. Daniel was a National Park Service Young Leaders in Climate Change Fellow and a NSF EAPSI Research Fellow. Learn more about the August 7-12, 2017 ESA Annual Meeting on the meeting website: http://esa. ESA welcomes attendance from members of the press and waives registration fees for reporters and public information officers. To apply, please contact ESA Communications Officer Liza Lester directly at The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world's largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 10,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society's Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at http://www. .

Hoeksema J.D.,University of Mississippi | Chaudhary V.B.,Northern Arizona University | Gehring C.A.,Northern Arizona University | Johnson N.C.,Northern Arizona University | And 9 more authors.
Ecology Letters | Year: 2010

Mycorrhizal fungi influence plant growth, local biodiversity and ecosystem function. Effects of the symbiosis on plants span the continuum from mutualism to parasitism. We sought to understand this variation in symbiotic function using meta-analysis with information theory-based model selection to assess the relative importance of factors in five categories: (1) identity of the host plant and its functional characteristics, (2) identity and type of mycorrhizal fungi (arbuscular mycorrhizal vs. ectomycorrhizal), (3) soil fertility, (4) biotic complexity of the soil and (5) experimental location (laboratory vs. field). Across most subsets of the data, host plant functional group and N-fertilization were surprisingly much more important in predicting plant responses to mycorrhizal inoculation ('plant response') than other factors. Non-N-fixing forbs and woody plants and C4 grasses responded more positively to mycorrhizal inoculation than plants with N-fixing bacterial symbionts and C3 grasses. In laboratory studies of the arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis, plant response was more positive when the soil community was more complex. Univariate analyses supported the hypothesis that plant response is most positive when plants are P-limited rather than N-limited. These results emphasize that mycorrhizal function depends on both abiotic and biotic context, and have implications for plant community theory and restoration ecology. © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd/CNRS.

Duval B.D.,University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign | Duval B.D.,U.S. Department of Agriculture | Anderson-Teixeira K.J.,University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign | Anderson-Teixeira K.J.,Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute | And 6 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2013

Bioenergy related land use change would likely alter biogeochemical cycles and global greenhouse gas budgets. Energy cane (Saccharum officinarum L.) is a sugarcane variety and an emerging biofuel feedstock for cellulosic bio-ethanol production. It has potential for high yields and can be grown on marginal land, which minimizes competition with grain and vegetable production. The DayCent biogeochemical model was parameterized to infer potential yields of energy cane and how changing land from grazed pasture to energy cane would affect greenhouse gas (CO2, CH4 and N2O) fluxes and soil C pools. The model was used to simulate energy cane production on two soil types in central Florida, nutrient poor Spodosols and organic Histosols. Energy cane was productive on both soil types (yielding 46-76 Mg dry mass{dot operator}ha-1). Yields were maintained through three annual cropping cycles on Histosols but declined with each harvest on Spodosols. Overall, converting pasture to energy cane created a sink for GHGs on Spodosols and reduced the size of the GHG source on Histosols. This change was driven on both soil types by eliminating CH4 emissions from cattle and by the large increase in C uptake by greater biomass production in energy cane relative to pasture. However, the change from pasture to energy cane caused Histosols to lose 4493 g CO2 eq{dot operator}m-2 over 15 years of energy cane production. Cultivation of energy cane on former pasture on Spodosol soils in the southeast US has the potential for high biomass yield and the mitigation of GHG emissions. © 2013 Duval et al.

Mattor K.,Colorado State University | Betsill M.,Colorado State University | Huayhuaca C.,Colorado State University | Huber-Stearns H.,Colorado State University | And 5 more authors.
Environmental Science and Policy | Year: 2014

Working effectively across boundaries is a critical skill for researchers focused on environmental governance in complex social-ecological systems, but challenges remain in the acquisition of such skills given the current structure of traditional disciplinary training. In an effort to contribute to improved coordination of research across disciplinary boundaries, we provide an insiders' view based on our experience participating in a two-year transdisciplinary research initiative designed to address the changing nature of environmental governance in the Intermountain West region of the United States. We discuss transdisciplinary research as a promising approach for addressing complex, real-world problems and identify several challenges. We analyze our transdisciplinary research process using the ideas of boundary setting, boundary concepts, and boundary objects. We conclude with reflections and lessons learned, emphasizing the importance of our external boundary setting, the role of funding, and the inexorable link between individual commitment and project success. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.

News Article | September 14, 2016

Early on a cold spring morning, Diana Wall is trying out a tool normally used to make holes on golf courses — and she can't contain her excitement. Her team has always used more laborious methods to take samples of soil and its resident organisms. “Oh, that's a beautiful core,” she says as one student bags a sample filled with tiny roundworms. “Hello, nematodes!” Wall, a soil ecologist and environmental scientist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, has come to this site about an hour east of the campus to collect data for one of her latest experiments. She and her colleagues are creating an artificial drought in a patch of grassland by covering it with temporary shelters. They expect that predatory nematodes will die or enter a type of suspended animation, leaving the parasitic nematodes that prey on plants to dominate the ecosystem. “How do plants respond below-ground to drought?” she wonders. Wall has been asking — and answering — similar questions about soil for decades. She has become one of the most celebrated and outspoken experts on the hidden biodiversity in dirt, having studied soils and their inhabitants in nearly every corner of the world. She has a special fondness for Antarctica, which she has visited almost every year since 1989. It was there that she and a colleague made a landmark discovery, demonstrating that the soil in one of the driest spots on Earth is home to some animal life and not sterile, as many had thought. The same drive to challenge orthodoxy also helped her to advance in a field in which women were once rare. “Many times, I felt like I was hitting the glass ceiling and got discouraged,” she says, before emphasizing how things have improved. “Today, I love seeing so many women in Antarctic and other research.” Alongside her own experiments, Wall has become an ambassador for soil science and conservation — at a time when soil ecosystems are being devastated by forces such as erosion, pollution, pesticides and climate change. Soil degradation over the past two centuries or so has released billions of tonnes of stored carbon into the atmosphere, and this discharge could accelerate, speeding up climate change. Beyond that, says Wall, the threats to soil could jeopardize food production, water quality and the health of humans, plants and animals. The current path, she says, “leaves our terrestrial biodiverse world as we know it very uncertain”. The efforts of Wall and other scientists to raise the profile of soils have been making an impact. The United Nations declared 2015 the International Year of Soils, and in May, Wall travelled to Nairobi to launch the Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas — a compendium of information developed by a team of more than 100 scientists, which she helped to lead. David Montgomery, a geomorphologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, says that Wall has inspired many other researchers in their science and outreach on topics important to society. “We need more first-rate scientists willing to speak in those arenas.” This month, Wall is busy planning for her next trip to Antarctica, which will come, as usual, just after Christmas. Her colleagues joke that those journeys keep Wall young because she often crosses the International Date Line on her birthday, essentially erasing the day from the calendar. Assuming that she passes her physical — for which she is swimming and cycling — this trip will be her 27th to Antarctica. Wall is 72 and has seemingly boundless energy. Tall and thin, she speaks quickly and picks up the pace as she describes the zoo of organisms in soils, from nematodes to the vast array of microbes. She emphasizes how bacteria and other microorganisms provide services that humans take for granted: filtering water, stabilizing soil, improving air quality and recycling nutrients that enable crops to grow. “I like to think of it as this factory underground,” she says. Wall credits her mother, a biology teacher, with helping to spark a lifelong interest in biology. Raised in Lexington, Kentucky, Wall got her PhD in plant pathology from the University of Kentucky in her home town. In 1972, she left for the US west coast to pursue postgraduate research in nematology — convinced that nematode parasites had a lot to reveal about how life behaves above ground. California was a shock at first. “That was eye-opening to me, because I had never crossed the Mississippi River, and it was — oh my god, where are the trees?” she says. But she ended up liking it there, and the University of California, Riverside, remained her home for much of the next two decades. She strung together a series of grants to keep her work going, confident that soil microorganisms were more significant than most researchers realized. “Originally, I was just convinced these all make a difference and I was waiting to be proven wrong,” she says. Wall focused at first on nematodes in deserts and arid croplands, conducting the bulk of her research in southern California, New Mexico and Michigan. By the late 1980s, she was seeking ways to understand a species' impact on an ecosystem. “If you want to find out how a plant parasite has an effect on a root or a predator, how do you exclude everything in the soil except that?” She tried chemicals to kill off species, but they also harmed what she wanted to study. Then a colleague suggested that Wall go somewhere without plants, where the food web was simpler. “I tossed around a number of places,” she says. “And we ended up in Antarctica.” She and her colleague Ross Virginia from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, decided to collect samples in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, a series of ice-free basins near the US McMurdo research station. The valleys receive no snow or rain, and humidity is so low that researchers have found the mummified remains of seals that made their way into the valleys thousands of years ago. Previous researchers had discovered nematodes and other life near glacier-fed streams that trickle during summer, but experts thought that the dry soils making up most of the valleys were barren. On one of Wall and Virginia's first visits to the Dry Valleys, they had just six hours to collect as many samples as possible before the helicopter returned to pick them up. They found nematodes in about 65% of the samples. “I couldn't believe it,” she says. Ultimately, this showed that life can thrive even in the most inhospitable underground environments, revealing that major ecosystems were being overlooked. Wall has returned to the Dry Valleys every field season except 1992, when she didn't receive funding for the trip. To recognize that long-running research, the US Geological Survey named valleys there after Wall and Virginia. Their work in Antarctica dovetailed with discoveries that Wall had previously made about how nematodes cope with extremely dry conditions in the US Southwest. In the Chihuahuan Desert, Wall and her colleagues showed that the worms rely on anhydrobiosis1: they shed most of their water and put metabolic activity on hold. Wall says that the nematodes end up looking like Cheerios, the ring-shaped dry cereal. When she went to Antarctica, Wall and her colleagues found that Dry Valley nematodes use the same mechanism2 to cope with arid conditions there3. With one eye focused on tiny nematodes, Wall kept the other on the bigger picture of how these creatures fit into ecosystems. This was all part of her ever-growing desire to understand and highlight the importance of life underground — something routinely ignored by many researchers until roughly the past decade. Studies that tracked the decomposition of fallen leaves and other organic materials, for example, tended to overlook the role of soil organisms. Wall says she grew tired of that limited perspective. “We wanted to show that animals are important in these processes.” So in 2001, she started a global, multiyear project to measure the impact of soil animals. Her team sent mesh bags filled with hay to colleagues at more than 30 sites around the world. Placed in various locations, the bags attracted worms, beetles and other types of soil invertebrate, while control bags excluded them. Wall's team then analysed the carbon content in each bag and compared the rates at which the organic matter decomposed with and without the soil animals. The results supported Wall's point: soil fauna increased decomposition rates significantly in many regions4. A follow-up study5 found that excluding soil fauna reduced decomposition rates by a global average of 35%. Those studies helped to convince researchers to pay more attention to life in soil (see ‘Soils under siege’). “We now understand how key these organisms are to many ecosystem processes,” says Amy Austin, an ecologist at the University of Buenos Aires. The litter finding means that there could be big changes in how carbon moves throughout ecosystems as forces such as climate change alter soil communities. Wall and her colleagues have seen some of this up close during their most recent field season in Antarctica. In as-yet-unpublished work, they found that the dominant nematode in the Dry Valleys, an endemic genus named Scottnema, has been declining in number, whereas a nematode that lives in wetter soils, Eudorylaimus, has been increasing, thanks to the melting of ice and permafrost. “It looks like there's going to be a species shift,” she says. “It's a fight for habitat.” Scottnema is Wall's favourite nematode. “It's living in this harshest environment, mostly by itself, and it's just so recognizable,” she says. But that's not the only reason that she has concerns about the species' decline. The two nematodes feed on different carbon sources in the soil, and population changes could alter the rate at which underground carbon escapes into the atmosphere. If so, the carbon-storage potential of the soil in Antarctica — a crucial region for absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — could change. Shifts in soil biota elsewhere on the planet could also affect how much carbon remains locked up, she says. In August this year, Wall found herself at the White House talking about soils with other experts and policymakers as part of a national effort to prevent erosion and promote soil health. It was the latest scene in a role she has increasingly embraced over the past 15 years — to bring soil health to the global stage. As Wall's research career blossomed, she took on more leadership positions. She served as president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences in 1993 and the Ecological Society of America in 1999. By that point, her involvement in these organizations was making her think bigger. “I'd been pretty concentrated on the Antarctic research,” she says. “I thought I should be doing more.” She began participating in and leading initiatives that were increasingly global in scope — chairing, for example, the International Biodiversity Observation Year starting in 2001, which funded research projects to highlight the importance of biodiversity around the world. In 2011, Wall became the founding science chair of the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative, the group behind the soil atlas that was launched in May. Looking forward, Wall wants to integrate data on soil health and biodiversity into global policies for mitigating large-scale environmental challenges. And she's talking to colleagues about launching a big US experiment to unravel the relationships between soils, biodiversity and health. “Conservation and protecting species is a very old idea, and so is soil conservation. But only now are these two ideas coming together,” she says. While campaigning for soils, Wall has also been a champion for women in science. When she was starting out, there weren't many role models for women in her field. And when she made her first trips to Antarctica, she made do with men's long underwear and boots, and endured eight-hour flights on military aircraft that lacked sit-down toilets. Wall was initially turned down for a tenure-track position at the University of California, Riverside, in the late 1980s — a decision that she and others suggest was related to her gender. Jill Baron, director of the North American Nitrogen Center at Colorado State University, says that how Wall recovered from that rejection is emblematic of her character. “She moved on into this stellar career,” says Baron. “And she's been working to make sure that other young women who come in don't have to ever have that again.” That kind of drive makes a big impression on people just entering science. Ashley Shaw, a PhD student studying under Wall, recalls their first meeting. “She was just so enthusiastic about her science and what she was working on,” says Shaw. “I walked away feeling like I could save the world.” Wall joined Colorado State University in 1993 to become director of the institution's Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory. There, colleagues say, she attracted interdisciplinary, accomplished scientists, which elevated the stature of the lab both on and off campus. She now serves as founding director of the university's School of Global Environmental Sustainability. There, in an office covered in photos and paraphernalia from Antarctica, she talks eagerly about her goals for the future — and takes offence when people ask her if she plans to retire. “Whether I pass my physical to go to Antarctica or get too old and have to have a wheelchair dropped for me from the sky,” she says, “I want to keep working on the issues.”

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