Mary Firestone Is a soil microbial ecologist who has worked extensively on the roles of soil microorganisms in terrestrial ecosystems. She is known for her work on microbial mediation of nitrogen oxidation and reduction processes including soil microbial control of nitrous oxide and nitric oxide production, adaptation of microbes to the extreme desiccation characteristic of arid and semi-arid soils, including production of extracellular polysaccharide matrices, and carbon- and nitrogen-based interactions among plant roots and soil organisms. Firestone was born and grew up in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. She earned a B.S. and M.S. in microbiology from Michigan State University and a PhD in Soil Science. She joined the faculty at University of California, Berkeley in 1979 where she was active in faculty governance, chairing the faculty senate in 2008. Firestone received a BBSRC Underwood Fellowship to support her sabbatical research at York University, UK and a Senior Fulbright Fellowship for her work at Lincoln University, NZ. Her work has been recognized by a range of disciplines, reflecting the breadth of areas influenced by her research; she is a fellow of the Soil Science Society of America, American Academy of Microbiology, Ecological Society of America, and American Geophysical Union.

Research Interests

Mary Firestone's laboratory investigates the ecological interactions of microorganisms with their soil environment. The extreme heterogeneity of soil and the scale at which microorganisms interact with their habitat has made understanding the ecology of soil microbes a life-long challenge. Members of the Firestone lab have extensively studied the roles of microbial community structure and function in controlling terrestrial ecosystem processes, working toward understanding the biogeochemistry of carbon and nitrogen cycling by interfacing the microbial bases of nutrient transformation with the functioning of ecosystems. To provide structure and clarity to data sets delineating the most diverse and complex assemblages of organisms on earth, the Firestone lab has used concepts and methods from macro-organismal community ecology. The research done in the Firestone lab seeks fundamental understanding as well as knowledge relevant to current applied problems such as the use of soil microbiomes to enhance plant tolerance to environmental stresses. Firestone's research program has brought to bear expertise in microbiology, biogeochemistry, ecosystems, and community ecology to globally-important questions including climate change, sustainability, land use change, and environmental contamination.

Membership Type


Election Year


Primary Section

Section 63: Environmental Sciences and Ecology

Secondary Section

Section 62: Plant, Soil, and Microbial Sciences