Scientific Staff

Meghan Midgley, PhD

Director of the Center for Tree Science and Soil Ecologist

Content Detail

As director of The Morton Arboretum’s Center for Tree Science, Meghan Midgley leads a team of accomplished tree scientists. As the leader of the Soil Ecology research group, she investigates how interactions among plants, microbes, and soil influence ecosystem responses to environmental changes.

The Center for Tree Science is the hub for the Arboretum’s work in tree science. As its director, Midgley leads more than 30 researchers who collaborate with colleagues around the world to advance and share knowledge of trees and their ecosystems to address the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss. The center builds scientific networks and shares research resources to develop new solutions to the challenges facing trees, while mentoring the next generation of leaders in tree science.

Midgley also is a soil and ecosystem ecologist who focuses on plant-soil interactions. Her research has two overarching themes: relationships between plant traits and ecosystem functions and the above- and belowground consequences of human activities. She investigates these topics using field experiments and field observations as well as laboratory and greenhouse studies, with a particular focus on temperate ecosystems.

Her research goal is to translate ecological understanding of plant-soil interactions into effective techniques for restoring and managing natural and urban ecosystems.

As a student, Midgley focused on human-environment interactions by examining the social context of canyon restoration in San Diego and the drivers of reforestation in Indiana. She then pursued a doctorate in biology, studying how a pervasive environmental change–increased nitrogen deposition–altered forest ecosystem structure and functioning, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the ecological processes driving restoration and reforestation trajectories. These experiences solidified her desire and ability to generate collaborative, community-oriented, and scientifically-sound solutions to environmental problems.

In her role as the Arboretum’s soil ecologist, Midgley has developed basic and applied research projects with colleagues across urban and wildland ecosystems. She continues to study fundamental relationships between plants and soil. She is applying these insights to enhance tallgrass prairie and oak ecosystem restoration, predict environmental change effects on trees and ecosystems, and improve urban soils for trees. Her research is fundamentally predictive, mechanistic, and practical. She broadly disseminates her findings to the academic, restoration, and arboriculture communities. As a soil enthusiast, she hopes to inspire others to appreciate the role of the belowground environment in meeting aboveground goals.


Midgley has published in leading journals in her field and secured funding through highly competitive fellowships and grants, including more than $1 million in external funding for the soil science program. She is currently the principal investigator on a National Science Foundation (NSF) “Rules of Life” grant, leading a team that is investigating the effects of tallgrass prairie plant species and communities on soil microbial ecology and functioning. As a graduate student, Midgley was awarded a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) fellowship, which funded her work investigating the effects of atmospheric nitrogen deposition pollution on forest soils. In 2022, Midgley was one of the first recipients of a Biota Award, under a Walder Foundation program recognizing leaders in biodiversity science. This award is supporting her work evaluating the effects of brush pile burning on plant and soil biodiversity in regional oak ecosystems.

Midgley is a seasoned mentor and collaborator. She takes great pride in helping students, fellows, and staff reach their personal and professional goals. Since the establishment of the Soil Ecology research group in 2015, Midgley has mentored dozens of researchers ranging from high school student interns to postdoctoral scholars and early-career fellows. They have gone on to present their work at professional conferences, publish their findings in scientific journals, and excel in both academic and applied careers. Midgley’s work as a mentor has been acknowledged through her receipt of funding from NSF to support research experiences for high school students, (RAHSS), undergraduates (REU), and post-Baccalaureate (REPS) students.


PhD, Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior

Indiana University
Bloomington, IN

MS, Environmental Science–Applied Ecology

Indiana University
Bloomington, IN

BS, Environmental Systems–Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution

University of California-San Diego
La Jolla, CA


Adjunct faculty in the department of Biological Sciences, University of Illinois-Chicago

Instructor, Associated Colleges of the Chicago Area

Associate editor, Biological Invasions

Member, Ecological Society of America

Member, Soil Ecology Society

Projects (10)