COLUMBUS, Ohio — An Ohio State University scientist who led the discovery of the biophysical processes behind a native shrub intercropping system that could transform agricultural practices in parts of sub-Saharan Africa has been elected to lead one of the nation’s premier natural science organizations.
Richard Dick, professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources, was elected the 2018 president of the Soil Science Society of America, which includes a three-year commitment on the SSSA Executive Council, starting January 2017. The school is in the university’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
Founded in 1936, SSSA is the professional home for more than 6,300 members and more than 1,000 certified professionals dedicated to advancing the field of soil science. It is one of the most prestigious and influential natural science organizations in the world. SSSA works to enhance the sustainability of soils, the environment and food production by integrating diverse scientific disciplines and principles in soil science.
“Richard is one of the leading soil scientists in the world, having advanced our knowledge on soil as a resource to deliver environmental services and promote food production,” said SSSA President Harold van Es. “Because of extensive international experience, his leadership promises to elevate the science and applications of soils globally.”
Dick is an Ohio Eminent Scholar working in the field of soil microbial ecology. His internationally recognized research seeks to understand microbial communities and processes that drive soil functions and deliver ecosystem services. His work has applications for the environment and agriculture.
He is perhaps best known for his 15 years of research in the Sahel region in West Africa, investigating rhizosphere biology and hydrology of interplanted crops and shrubs. Under his leadership, a team of African, French and U.S. scientists discovered that local shrubs perform hydraulic lift of water from subsoil to surface soil. The research showed this phenomenon has profound impacts on soil hydrology, microbiology and biogeochemical processes that dramatically increase crop production and enable rainfed crops such as millet to resist in-season drought periods in the semi-arid Sahel. Millet and other crops affected by the research are major sustenance crops for the populations of these regions.
Dick’s work in this area has changed the paradigm of how semi-arid ecosystems function and has major implications for the region’s agriculture by utilizing intercropped shrubs as local nutrient and water reservoirs and to remediate degraded landscapes.
His research has been supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Dick has been an invited speaker worldwide for conferences and workshops and has been professionally recognized as a Gordon Conference Lecturer and Fulbright Scholar. He is a Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America and American Society of Agronomy and was executive director of 2016’s international Enzymes in the Environment conference.
Dick previously has served in appointed and elected positions in SSSA, including as chair of the Soil Biology and Biochemistry Division, as a two-term member of the board of directors, and as chair of the Budget and Finance Committee. For six years, he served as associate editor of the SSSA Journal and is currently editor-in-chief of the journal Applied Soil Ecology.