Derek MacKenzie

Associate professor, soil plant relations

Research areas

Effects of natural and anthropogenic disturbance on soil-plant relations; fire biogeochemistry; silviculture and soil fertility; land reclamation in the oil sands

Research website

Soil Plant Relations (SPR)

Derek talks about the importance and complexity of soil science

Why is soil important?
Because it is the foundation of life. Food grows on soil, wood fibre grows on soil, water is filtered by soil, and carbon is stored in soil. All of these things can be done in industrial settings, although not on a scale to satisfy the world population - but soil can. It has been suggested recently that maybe we shouldn't be going to Mars, but rather planting billions of trees to capture carbon in wood and soil…think about that.

What are some of the challenges of doing your research?
Trying to quantify the millions of different organisms interacting in soil to shape carbon sequestration and nutrient availability. There is nothing easy about a forest ecosystem. It's beautiful and serene, yes, but a myriad of interactions is going on, hidden from the naked eye.

What aspect of soil science really piques students' curiosity?
I think learning about the world beneath their feet does it. The complexity, importance and need for conservation hopefully gets them curious. That and learning about Chebbacazems and Han Solonetz's, two soils commonly found together in Alberta!