Gund Fellow, Professor, UVM Department of Plant and Soil Science

Deborah (“Deb”) Neher, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Science at the University of Vermont. She is a soil ecologist and her recent research focuses on biological communities in compost and their role in disease suppression by natural mechanisms. Dr. Neher has 35+ years of experience as a researcher, educator, and graduate student mentor. She has published 100 peer reviewed articles and 24 book chapters on topics of biological indicators of soil, ecotoxicology and biotechnology risk assessment, climate change and soil biological crusts, plant pathology and sustainable agriculture. Dr. Neher’s primary research interest is developing biological indicators for environmental monitoring of soil. She views nature as a model and am a question-driven researcher using population and community ecology approaches.

She currently serves on the Board of Directors for The Land Institute where she chairs the science committee. She was the 2010 recipient of the HW Vogelmann Award for Excellence in Research and Scholarship at University of Vermont, 2015 recipient of the Deborah A. Neher Career Award in Soil Ecology given by the Ecological Society of America, and 2017 recipient of the Service Award of the Soil Ecology Society.



  • Porterfield, K.K., Hobson, S.A., Neher, D.A., Niles, M.T., and Roy, E.D. 2023. Microplastics in composts, digestates and food wastes: A review. Journal of Environmental Quality 52:225-240.   
  • Neher, D.A., Harris, J.M., Horner, C.E., Scarborough, M.J., Badireddy, A.R., Faulkner, J.W., White, A.C., Darby, H., Farley, J.C., and Bishop-von Wettberg, E.J. 2022. Resilient soils for resilient farms: An integrative approach to assess, promote and value soil health for small- and medium-size farms. Phytobiomes 6:201-220.
  • Neher, D.A., and Hoitink, H.A. 2021. Compost use for plant disease suppression. Chapter 17 (Pages 847-878) in: Rynk, R. (editor) The Composting Handbook, Second Edition, Elsevier. Book chapter available here.
  • Neher, D.A., Limoges, M.A., Weicht, T.R., Sharma, M., Miller, P.D. and Donnelly, C. 2020. Bacterial community dynamics distinguish poultry compost from dairy compost and unamended soils planted with spinach. Microorganisms 8(10):1601. doi:10.3390/microorganisms8101601
  • Neher, D.A., Cutler, A.J., Weicht, T.R., Sharma, M., and Millner, P.D. 2019. Composts of poultry litter or dairy manure differentially affect survival of enteric bacteria in fields with spinach. Journal of Applied Microbiology 126:1910-1922.
Gund Affiliate Deborah Neher

Areas of Expertise and/or Research

Compost ecology, biological indicators of soil, soil ecology, plant disease epidemiology


  • Postdoctoral Research Associate, North Carolina State University, 1990-1993
  • Ph.D., University of California, Davis, Department of Plant Pathology, 1990
  • M.S., University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Department of Plant Biology, 1986
  • B.S., McPherson College, McPherson, KS, Environmental Science, Summa cum laude, 1984