Diana Wall works on soil biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in any ecosystems. She works at the physical limits to life in the Antarctic dry valleys where climate change effects are amplified and species diversity is much reduced compared to other soil ecosystems. Across these ice-free ecosystems, she and her colleagues showed that soil nematodes—microscopic worms— represent the top of the terrestrial food chain. One species, Scottnema lindsayae, had a surprisingly broad distribution and high abundance in drier, more saline soils, than other less abundant species found in aquatic systems (e.g, glacial meltstreams. This knowledge on habitat preference can be used to help predict how species and ecosystems might respond to climate change.
Wall’s more than 25 years of research in the Antarctic continues to clarify the critical links between climate change and soil biodiversity. Her interdisciplinary research with the McMurdo Dry Valley LTER has uncovered dramatic impacts to invertebrate communities in response to climate change, the key role nematode species play in soil carbon turnover, and how they survive such extreme environments. A 20-year long-term field project on climate change is revealing that with increased carbon sources, warming and water events, the dominant, physiologically tough Scottnema species that preys on soil bacteria across the dry landscape (also referred to as the “lion of the McMurdo dry valleys”) declined while others increased. By altering the soil physical and chemical habitat through increased moisture, warming for the future creates a more homogenous soil community with unknown effects on soil carbon turnover rates, a fundamentally important ecosystem process. Wall has combined her polar research with global scale field studies demonstrating that soil animals increase decomposition rates more in temperate and moist tropical climates than in cold and dry conditions, indicating a latitudinal gradient in their roles in ecosystems.
Diana served as President of the Ecological Society of America, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, and the Society of Nematologists. Diana received the 2017 Eminent Ecologist Award from the Ecological Society of America, the 2019 President’s Medal and 2016 Honorary Member award from the British Ecological Society, the 2015 Ulysses Medal from University College Dublin, the 2012 SCAR President’s Medal for Excellence in Antarctic Research and the 2013 Soil Science Society of America Presidential Award. Wall Valley, Antarctica was named in 2004 to recognize her research. She is a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America and the Society of Nematologists and holds an Honorary Doctorate from Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Diana is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is the 2013 Laureate of the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement. Diana is currently Science Chair, Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative. She is the Inaugural Director of the School of Global Environmental Sustainability at Colorado State University. Diana earned a B.A. in biology and Ph.D. in plant pathology at the University of Kentucky, Lexington.