Who we are


 jesse headshot

Jesse Nippert
Associate Professor

My research focus is on plant eco-physiological responses to changes in water availability (spatially, temporally, or driven by climate changes). Particularly, I'm interested in the mechanims of drought tolerance by grassland and savanna species (structure / function) as well as the theory of competition/ facilitation for water between trees and grasses. Thus, I enjoy spending my time addressing questions linking resource availability - physiology - patterns of productivity, with the goal of improving our ability to scale energy dynamics and hydrological processes from the plant- to ecosystem-level.

I love spending time outdoors in the grasslands. These systems exist within an interface of climatic variability and frequent disturbance (fire and grazers). Grass species are deceptively simple, but their unique physiology and form is adapted to environmental stress and disturbance. Despite abiotic and biotic pressures, grasses are masters of growth efficiency and develop dense canopies and high biomass. The environmental and biotic complexity of grasslands provides a challenging (mentally and physically) and enjoyable system to study. For me, there is nothing better than spending a day in the sun of the Konza Prairie.

CV (last updated - Apr 2015)


Rory O'Connor
PhD Student

My proposed research will investigate the mechanisms of woody plant establishment in grassland ecosystems. How do woody plants establish themselves in a fire prone environment and within the tightly-knit root matrix of grasses? What are the above ground constraints that restrict establishment? Likewise, what are the belowground constraints of establishing in grasslands? A lot of work has been done exploring this topic in arid and semi-arid grasslands and savannas. However, woody expansion and establishment by both native and exotic species in mesic grasslands is less developed. I plan on using roughleaf dogwood and smooth sumac as my model species because both are clonal, respond similarly to fire and are increasing in abundance in the tall grass prairie.


Seton Bachle
MS Student

Seton joins us from Nebraska - having earned his BS from Hastings College. Seton's thesis will focus on identifying physiological traits associated with drought tolerance in grass species. This work will use paired congeneric grasses in experimental dry-downs. In addition, he likely will be involved in drought tolerance experiments on Konza Prairie.


Lindsey Swartz
Undergrad - Senior
Major: Biology

Lindsey started working in the lab during the summer of 2015, assisting Kim, Rory, and Braden on Konza with their work on shrub physiology. Since then, she's been a part-time lab assistant helping keep the lab and SIMSL running smoothly.


Aolani Zidek
Undergrad - Freshman
Major: Biology

Aolani brings tremendous enthusiasm to the lab. She spend the summer 2016 helping Rory and Mira with Konza fieldwork and helping Rachel in SIMSL. Aolani is still deciding what type of biologist she wants to become, but we will do our best to push her towards plant physiological ecology!

Former Post-doctoral Scholars

Amy Concilio (2012-15)
Currently: Assistant Professor, St. Edwards, Austin, TX

Former Graduate Students

Kim O'Keefe (2012-2016) Ph.D. - Biology
Currently: Postdoc at Univ. Wisconsin-Madison, working with Prof. Kate McCulloh

Zak Ratajczak
(2011-2014) Ph.D. - Biology
Currently: Postdoc at Univ. Wisconsin-Madison, in the 'Center for Study of Abrupt Change in Ecological Systems (ACES)' led by Prof. Monica Turner

Troy Ocheltree
(2008-12) Ph.D. - Agronomy and SIMSL Manager
Currently: Assistant Professor, Dept. Forestry and Rangeland Stewardship, Colorado State University

Jeff Hartman (2009-11) M.S. - Biology
PhD (2015): University of Nebraska-Lincoln (w/ David Wedin)
Currently: TBD

Sally Kittrell nee Tucker) (2009-10) M.S. - Biology
Currently: Oklahoma State University (w/ Gail Wilson & Janette Steets)

Jacob Carter (2008-10) M.S. - Biology
PhD (2015): University of Kansas (w/ Joy Ward)
Currently: Union of Concerned Scientists

Former Undergrads

K-State Students
Rachel Keen (2013-2016) - MS student at Utah State
Ben Ketter (2012-2014) - graduated with MS from U Missouri
Gracie Orozco (2009-2014) - Environmental Engineer, Victoria, TX
Laura Kemp (2011-2012) - scientist at The Land Institute in Salina, KS
Whitley Jackson (2008-2012) - Physician in KC
Teall Culbertson (2008-2011) - Vetrinarian in KC

REU Students
Mira Ensley-Field (2016) from Macalester College
Braden Hoch (2015) from K-State
Andy Muench
(2014) from U Wisconsin-Madison
Ben Ketter
(2013) from K-State
Annie Klodd
(2011) from Grinnell College
Rachel Wieme (2010) from St. Olaf's College
Zak Ratajczak (2009) from Vassar College
Laura Kangas (2008) from Michigan Tech

  Last Update: 10-Jan-2017