Sep 282009
 
Authors: Jessica Cline

Diana Wall first became fascinated with nematodes, sometimes microscopic, multi-cellular worms, as an undergraduate when she realized how similar they were to humans.

“I realized that they were like us, but I could see right through them with a microscope,” Wall, the founding director of CSU’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability,” Wall said. “I could see their esophagi working, their ovaries and all of their parts.”

Nematodes are found throughout the world because they have adapted to live in starkly contrasting environments, from those in Antarctica to underwater.

Wall studies these creatures, whose digestive, nervous and reproductive systems are akin to a human’s, as part of her study of soil biodiversity. She is working to determine what happens when soil, a habitat for thousands of species, is disturbed and how people can sustain it, in turn preserving the environment around it.

A CSU biology professor, Wall, is exploring how the abundant life in the soil contributes to healthy, fertile and productive soil ecosystems.

As part of this research she has traveled with her research team to the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica 18 times since 1989 to see how nematodes and other organisms survive in the frigid environment and evaluate what happens when the soil ecosystems are affected by change.

She said researchers erect little greenhouse-like structures on spots of soil, warm them to see the effects and then fly the soil back to CSU to study.

In honor of her research, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names named Wall Valley, Antarctica after the CSU professor.

The New York Times was among the publications that have documented and reported on the team’s research.

Earlier this month, Wall used her research to contribute to CSU’s International Colloquium on Global Challenges for Sustainability. She hosted two of the sessions: “Biodiversity 911” and “Hot Topics in Sustainability.”

One session focused on the threat of climate change to diversity within species and between different species and the other centered on the main areas of concern in sustainability and how to educate people on these concerns, respectively.

Wall, who earned her bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in biology from the University of Kentucky, was one of three professors to receive CSU’s University Distinguished Professor award in April for her work with soil biodiversity and her accomplishments as a whole.

Graduate student Rosemary Townsend, who works with and is advised by Wall, believes Wall definitely deserved the award.

“She deserved the Distinguished Professor award for all her dedication and commitment to the university and her profession,” Townsend said. “Her work is world-renowned and very import in soil sustainability.”

Her colleague from the School of Global Environmental Sustainability agreed that Wall was a great choice for the award.

“Diana is not only a world-renowned scientist, but she also possesses a strong sense of responsibility toward providing research and teaching of the highest caliber,” said Eugene Kelly, interim associate director of Research and Development Programs for the School of Environmental Sustainability. /

“She is a true scholar in the best sense of the term, and it serves her well in every aspect of her profession.”

Wall has been researching in her field of study for about 20 years, 15 of them at CSU. Before coming to CSU, she was a professor at the University of California.

She is a member of the U.S. Commission of United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization, the Advisory Committee of Tropical Soil Biology and the Fertility-CIAT Project on Conservation and Sustainable Management of Below-Ground Biodiversity and is on the Advisory Board for the UK Population Biology Network.

She was the chair for the SCOPE Committee on Soil and Sediment Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning and has been the president of many different groups such as the Ecological Society of America, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, Association of Ecosystem Research Centers, among others.

Wall said the School of Global Environmental Sustainability hopes to bring together scholars and researchers from all different fields of study to find new approaches and ways to solve environmental issues.

She said the college is important to finding solutions and creating a better future.

“Students are the hope of putting the pieces together and finding solutions,” she said.

Staff writer Jessica Cline can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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