One of the great scientific challenges is trying to understand how the operations of ecosystems, on which we all depend, are regulated by their biological complexity. Nowhere is this challenge more intractable than in soil, site of many essential services such as carbon and nutrient cycling, and home to great - and largely unknown - biological diversity.
New approaches and technologies offer real hope of progress in tackling this problem, but there is an urgent need to communicate the importance of soils to the global ecosystem and to human civilisation, to slow or halt the damage being done to the world's soils.
Alastair Fitter is Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Professor of Ecology at the University of York. He was Director of the UK Population Biology Network (UKPopNet) from 2004-2007 and President of the British Ecological Society from 2003-2005, and is a member of the Council of NERC. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2005 and an Honorary Member of the Botanical Society of the British Isles in 2007.
His research focusses on soil biodiversity and in particular the role of mycorrhizal fungi in community and ecosystem behaviour.