Diana Harrison Wall named 2017 ESA Eminent Ecologist

The Eminent Ecologist Award honors a senior ecologist for an outstanding body of ecological work or sustained ecological contributions of extraordinary merit.

The Ecological Society of America's 2017 Eminent Ecologist, Diana Wall, takes a break from sampling soil biodiversity along an elevational transect as part of the McMurdo Dry Valley LTER project in Miers Valley, Antarctica (78°5.326 S, 163°46.382 E), in January 2013. Photo credit: Martijn Vandegehuchte

The Ecological Society of America’s 2017 Eminent Ecologist, Diana Wall, takes a break from sampling soil biodiversity along an elevational transect as part of the McMurdo Dry Valley LTER project in Miers Valley, Antarctica (78°5.326 S, 163°46.382 E), in January 2013. Photo credit: Martijn Vandegehuchte.

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.


  • Watch this space for announcements of more 2017 ESA awards — or find all 2017 award winners in the 1 March 2017 press release
  • Learn more about Diana in a 15 September 2016 Nature news feature, “Secrets of life in the soil” 537,298–300 doi:10.1038/537298a

Author: Liza Lester

ESA's Communications Officer came on board in the fall of 2011 after a Mass Media Science and Engineering fellowship with AAAS and a doctorate in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Washington.

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