Inaugural Director, School of Global Environmental Sustainability
CSU University Distinguished Professor
Professor of Biology
Diana H. Wall is a world-renowned ecologist and the inaugural director of the School of Global Environmental Sustainability. Since the School’s beginning in 2008, Wall has been a driving force for connecting CSU faculty, researchers, and students by providing innovative programs and tools to address the world’s greatest sustainability challenges. Under her leadership, the School has become a strong platform for building an academic community at CSU that crosses boundaries to share knowledge and solve the most pressing environmental problems we face.
Wall’s commitment to bring the excellence of the CSU academic community together to tackle global challenges has initiated new local and international collaborations of creative transdisciplinary research, engagement, and scholarship. The novel programs established by Wall amplify CSU’s ability to meaningfully address global issues. These include seed funding for diverse teams of researchers, communication and leadership training for early career scientists, a re-envisioned approach to sustainability education, and a large effort to engage the academic and global communities through events that promote discourse and discussion. Diana gives credit for the School’s success to the intellectual creativity and passion of the CSU faculty, researchers, staff, and students who want to share their work in new ways and contribute to the scholarship and solutions of the world’s most urgent sustainability issues.
Diana Wall 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. Her collaborative nature and pioneering global scale studies of soil biodiversity are hallmarks of her career. She is an ecologist and environmental scientist internationally recognized for her research documenting and exploring the complexity of biodiversity in soils, the importance of this biodiversity for ecosystem health, and the consequences of human activities on soils globally. Her research in agricultural and less managed ecosystems has emphasized how life in soil, from microbes to invertebrates, contributes to ecosystem services.
To understand the importance of soil biodiversity, 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, plant-less ecosystems, she and her colleagues showed that soil nematodes—microscopic worms— represent the top of the terrestrial food chain. She found one species, Scottnema lindsayae, had a surprisingly broad distribution and high abundance in drier, more saline soils, that other less abundant species found near water (e.g, glacial meltstreams) cannot tolerate. 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 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 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”) has declined, while other common taxa increased. By altering the soil physical and chemical habitat through increased moisture, warming 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 earned a BA in biology and a PhD in plant pathology from the University of Kentucky, Lexington.