Johan (John) F. Dormaar Soil Science

Soil scientist internationally recognized for his work on the effects of livestock grazing on rangeland soils, soil chemistry, and soil organic matter

The Story

Dormaar's research at Agricultural and Agri-Foods Canada (AAFC) has focused on the environmental impact of over-grazing such as soil loss, artificial drought, and the deleterious effect of livestock on the enzymatic activity of soil. He pioneered in-depth research on the interaction between livestock grazing and rangeland soils in North America, and for this he has gained considerable national and international recognition.

Dormaar brought about a new understanding of nutrient recycling by showing for the first time that phosphatase accumulation over the winter led to the release of inorganic phosphorus from organically bound phosphorus in the soil in spring. His basic methodology is widely used to measure the characteristics of soil organic matter, the impacts of agricultural practices on soil, and the length of time for rangeland recovery. Present models of how carbon is captured and processed within grassland soils rely heavily on these baseline data.

Dormaar's work has contributed to a holistic view of the way grasslands have evolved since pre-European times. His approach has influenced a new generation of soil scientists working towards more sustainable land management strategies. A much-sought after speaker at national and international conferences, Dormaar has published over 200 articles including 110 scientific papers and numerous book chapters. He has served terms as president of both the Canadian Society of Soil Science and the Archaeological Society of Alberta.

Dormaar continues his leadership and teaching of younger scientists through his emeritus status within Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Research Branch. In addition, Dormaar teaches at the University of Lethbridge where his soil genesis and landscape research adds dimension to the Geomorphology and Geoarchaeology field courses. A lifelong Scouter, Dormaar received Scouts Canada's Silver Acorn Award in 1990 in honour of fifty years' distinguished service.

Dr. Dormaar acknowledges the vital contributions of his fellow range ecologists at AAFC and Alberta Agriculture, as well as the support of the Research Branch of AAFC, in developing an understanding of human activities on soil-plant interactions.

Sources: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; Molly A. K. Shinhat, AAFC, personal communication; John Dormaar, personal communication.


The Person

February 16, 1930
Batavia, Dutch East Indies (now Djakarta, Indonesia)
Date of Death
February 2, 2011
Place of Death
Lethbridge, Alberta
Lethbridge, Alberta
Family Members
  • Children: Steve (Karen), Paul (Louise), Judi (Richard) Grandchildren: Amanda, Andy, Jamie, Janelle, Nicholas, Peter, Sean. Great grandchildren: Adrian, Logan. Brother Dr. Nicholas Dormaar.
Other Interests
Hiking and natural history, the Scouting movement
Emeritus Research Scientist; Adjunct Professor, U of Lethbridge
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Lethbridge, Alberta
  • BSA, U of Toronto, 1957
  • MSA, U of Toronto, 1958
  • PhD, U of Alberta, 1961
  • Canadian Archaeological Association Pendergast Award, 2002
  • Inductee, AAFC Hall of Fame
  • Fellow, Canadian Society of Soil Science, 1989
  • DSc, <i>honoris causa</i>, U of Lethbridge, 1991
  • Immigrant of Distinction Award, 1998
  • Distinguished Service Award, Archaeological Soc. of Alberta
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Glacier Mountaineering Society
Dr. Darrel L. Lynch, PhD Thesis advisor
Last Updated
December 4, 2011

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