Deborah A. Neher

Deborah A. Neher

Deborah A. Neher

Speaker | University of Vermont

Burlington, VT |

Neher is a soil ecologist with formal training in plant population ecology and plant pathology. I view nature as a model and am a question-driven researcher using population and community ecology approaches. My recent research focuses on biological communities in compost and their role in disease suppression by natural mechanisms. Through my career, I have published 100 peer-reviewed publications and given more than 240 scientific presentations on topics of biological indicators of soil, ecotoxicology and biotechnology risk assessment, climate change and soil biological crusts, plant pathology and sustainable agriculture. A comprehensive list is available at my web page,

Session Code: A2

Track: Current Research (hosted by CREF)

Session Name: Biological Indicators, Biochar Co-composting, Increasing SOC

Session Time: Wednesday, Jan 25, 1:45 to 3:15 PM

Presentation Title: Biological Indicators and Compost for Managing Plant Disease on Vegetable Crops

Presentation Description: Compost can limit disease through thermophilic exposure, release of toxic products and/or microbial antagonists that colonize compost during the cooling, curing stage. Mature compost contains microorganisms that can promote plant growth by mineralizing nutrients, producing plant hormone imitations, or secreting antibiotics to defend against other microorganisms. The duration and efficacy of suppressiveness depend on a number of compost and soil factors, including feedstocks, composting practices, curing, compost maturity, organic matter, nutrient content, salinity, and timing of compost application.

As indicators, soil communities both integrate soil chemical and physical properties, and reflect the status of ecological processes including disease suppression. General microbial activity or biomass measured as respiration or phospholipids are simple indicators but difficult to interpret. Instead, indicators that reflect ecological succession or compost maturity are better predictors of disease suppression. Emerging tools that measure competition, ecoenzymes, and functional diversity are relatively quick assays that provide ecological insights beyond general measures of activity or biomass. These tools reflect composition of soil communities and predict their potential to suppress soilborne pathogens. These indicators are quicker than plant bioassays and could be adopted as tools to certify commercial products.