Dali Guo obituary (1971–2017)

Dali Guo, who passed away aged 46 on the 19th November 2017, was known for his major contributions to plant ecology through advancing our understanding of root ecology and patterns of root traits in terrestrial ecosystems. His research has not only helped to establish the importance of root branching order on root and ecosystem function, but also greatly advanced understanding of the global organization of root traits.


Many of Dali’s papers were published British Ecological Society journals, especially Journal of Ecology, a journal he served as an Associate Editor for from 2010. He was also a member of the Advisory board of New Phytologist (since 2011), and served on the advisory boards of Global Change Biology (2011-2014) and Chinese Journal of Plant Ecology (since 2009).

Dali had an insatiable desire to learn about the natural world, especially roots. His enthusiasm was passed on to his colleagues and collaborators, but also to the many graduate students and young scientists that he trained. He was also a highly enthusiastic and committed teacher, and continued teaching his students right up to the point when his health prevented him from standing in class. When lecturing became too much for him, he would make recordings to share with his students.

His enthusiasm didn’t stop at work. He loved reading books about history, philosophy and poetry, and enjoyed cooking, traveling, and watching movies with his family. During the last few months of his life, he lost the ability to sit up and read, so he listened to audiobooks instead. He was also very much a family man. He would always make time to take his daughter, Hengjia, to her ballet classes and piano lessons, and, when possible, he would bring his family on fieldwork so that they could spend time together.

Dali was born on March 6th, 1971, in Gansu Province, China. He started his academic career at Nanjing Agricultural University, where he gained a degree in Soil and Agricultural Chemistry in 1992. Following this, he completed a master’s degree in forest soil science at the Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. In 1997 he left China for the US to complete his PhD in Forest Ecology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

He then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center, under the guidance of Dr Robert Mitchell, and in 2004 he joined the Department of Ecology, Peking University, where he was quickly promoted to Associate Professor. With support from the Hundred-Talent Program, he joined the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, as Professor in 2011. In 2013, he was acknowledged as a Distinguished Young Scholar Fellow, awarded by the Natural Science Foundation of China to support the most talented young scientists to pursue their research.

Dali was a true pioneer of belowground ecology, and will be sorely missed by his family and many friends, colleagues and students, and by the world of plant ecology. He will be remembered for his exceptional kindness, humble nature, insatiable enthusiasm, and outstanding contributions to plant ecology.

Dali is survived by his wife, Ping Wang, and his 14-year-old daughter, Hengjia.

Richard Bardgett, The University of Manchester, UK
Zeqing Ma, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China

In tribute to Dali Guo, the editors of the Journal of Ecology have put together a virtual issue of Dali’s papers published in the British Ecological Society’s journals. Read the papers on the journal website: Virtual Issue in honour of Dali Guo (1971-2017)

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