Skip directly to: Navigation for this section | Main page content

Soils & Biogeochemistry

The Soils and Biogeochemistry program traces its roots to a summer field course taught at the University Farm circa 1912 through the Division of Soil Technology at Berkeley. The Division of Soil Technology established at Davis in 1921 was renamed the Division of Soils in 1941 and restructured as the Department of Soils in 1952 when Davis’ College of Agriculture was established. In 1955, the department merged with the Department of Plant Nutrition at Berkeley to form the Soils and Plant Nutrition Department with faculty at both Berkeley and Davis. The Davis faculty occupied a portion of the newly completed Hoagland Hall. Eight years later the Kearney Foundation of Soil Science was relocated from Berkeley to oin the department. The Department of Soils and Plant Nutrition at Davis was completely separated from the Berkeley Department in 1964.

Soils and Plant Nutrition faculty have continued to contribute to basic and applied research on soils and soil-plant relations, as well as the mineral nutrition of plants in the context of irrigated agriculture. Perry Stout, with D. Arnon, discovered that molybdenum is an essential plant nutrient in 1938. Stout was also involved in the 1954 discovery that chloride is essential for plant growth. Reisenauer and Delwiche discovered the essential nature of cobalt for the growth of Rhizobia and the function of the legume-Rhizobia symbiosis, so crucial to the development of sustainable farming systems using nitrogen fixation by legumes as an N source. Emanuel Epstein established the fact that plants accumulate ions by two different mechanisms, and later demonstrated how calcium benefits plants exposed to high salinity.

Faculty hired to compensate for the large turnover between 1984 and 1991 helped to diversify the traditional program. New positions in mycorrhizal physiology and ecology, microbiology and bioremediation, geochemistry, and rhizosphere expanded departmental research directions. Currently the program covers agricultural and environmental issues ranging from global carbon dioxide sequestration to ion interactions on mineral surfaces. Program faculty are well known nationally and internationally, and many serve on the editorial boards of major journals.