Jesse Nippert
Professor of Biology
PI - Konza Prairie LTER Program

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 - June 2019)


Emily Wedel
Ph.D. Student

My research will focus on tree-grass interactions in lowveld savanna in response to precipitation regimes. We will measure a variety of plant physiological and demographic traits to understand how precipitation drives tree:grass ratios in savannas.This research will include identifying differences in rooting depth and drought tolerance among several savanna tree and grass species. Additionally, part of my research will be conducted on the Konza Prairie. I plan to set up a comparative study on tree-grass interactions in tallgrass prairie to those in South African savanna.


Rachel Keen
Ph.D. Student

My research at K-State will focus on some of the below-ground effects of woody encroachment in grassland ecosystems and will take place primarily at Konza Prairie. Most of the research on woody encroachment has focused on above-ground processes, but little is known about below-ground interactions between herbaceous and woody species. Grasses and woody shrubs have very different rooting structures and also respond differently to important drivers like drought and fire. The proliferation of woody root systems can affect processes like carbon cycling, competition for water and other resources, and even the way water infiltrates into the soil. I'm interested in how drought and fire (and their interactions) affect communities of co-existing herbaceous and woody species, as well as how the larger, deeper rooting systems of woody species affect the way water infiltrates and flows through the soil, potentially impacting groundwater and stream recharge. 

Shahla Mohammadi
Ph.D. Student

I was born and grew up in Iran. As a person who spent lots of her childhood in prairies with great enthusiasm to study plants, Kansas State University, with its magnificent environment in every aspect, is an academic place that I always wanted to join one day. I’m here to extend my knowledge in Ecophysiology and fill the gap between this field of study and Plant Biochemistry. Isn’t it great?! Based on my background in Plant Science, I have investigated the signaling transduction pathway of abiotic stress responses in plants. I'd like to dedicate my time to do more research on physiochemical mechanisms in plants subjected to drought and oxidative stresses to understand the biochemical basis of resistance in the context of Ecophysiology. Moreover, I am interested in unravelling the functions of particular byproducts regulating abiotic stress tolerance in C4 grasses. So, my PhD project would be a breathtaking linkage between Ecophysiology and Plant biochemistry. I’m already excited about it.



Greg Tooley
MS Student

I grew up around the Flint Hills of Kansas until moving to western Kansas for my undergraduate degree at FHSU. While living in the land that gives Kansas its flat, barren reputation, I gained an appreciation for the beautiful environment I grew up in. I’m happy to be back and studying the tallgrass prairie in Jesse’s plant ecophysiology lab. My research focuses on roughleaf dogwood (Cornus drummondii), a woody shrub rapidly encroaching the prairie. I explore how the light environment in dogwood’s canopy affects its leaf functional traits and their photosynthetic capacity. I also examine browsing and grazing’s impact on this relationship. In a future project, I will research how dogwood distributes its roots to obtain the necessary resources to survive and thrive on the prairie.


Ryan Donnelly
MS student

I’m a Californian-turned-Kansan who can’t get enough of the prairie, and more importantly, grasses! My research is focusing on broad differences in the physiological traits of grasses and will explore differences found among the many lineages that occur here in the Flint Hills. I have a soft spot for species that are underrepresented in research, so I aim to fill gaps in the literature where many species have been previously ignored.


Meghan Maine

I'm a military child that decided to continue living here in Kansas for my undergraduate! I am currently pursuing my degree in Biology on the Animal Biology track, with plans to apply for vet school in the near future. I enjoy working with animals and would like to do animal physiology research to benefit animals in the future.


Lauren Gill
Integrative Physiology

I grew up right here in Manhattan and am currently pursuing a degree in Integrative Physiology with a minor in Anthropology. While my end goal is to get a medical degree and be a Physician Assistant, I love working in this lab and getting to learn more about the wonderful grasslands around the area.


Yasen Alani

Yasen Alani is currently studying biology at Kansas State University. He has a Bachelor of Science degree from Baghdad University and a Master of Science from BAMU University in India. Yasen hopes to do medical research on hematology and microbiology when he is finished with his studies. He has been in the United States now for 7 years.


Former Post-doctoral Scholars

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

Former Graduate Students

Marissa Zaricor (2018-2021) M.S. - Biology Currently: Ph.D. student at Univ. Missouri with Lauren Sullivan

Emily Wedel (2017-2019) M.S. - Biology
Currently: Ph.D. student in Eco-Phys lab at KSU

Rory O'Connor (2014-2019) Ph.D. - Biology
Currently: Rangeland Ecologist, USDA-ARS, Burns OR

Seton Bachle (2015-2017) M.S. - Biology, Ph.D. - Biology 2021
Currently: Post-doc with Troy Ocheltree at CSU 

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: Assistant Professor, Division of Biology, Kansas State Univ.

Troy Ocheltree
(2008-12) Ph.D. - Agronomy and SIMSL Lab Manager
Currently: Assoc. 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: Highway Environmental Program Manager at Nebraska Dept. of Transportation

Sally Kittrell nee Tucker) (2009-10) M.S. - Biology

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

Former Undergrads

K-State Students

Jessica Schauf (2018-2020) - working in W. Kansas as an Agronomist
Madison Lofing (2018-2019) - working in Los Angeles
Samuel Long
(summer 2018) - working in Chicago
Kenna Miller
(2016-2018) -- working in Kansas City
Lindsey Swartz
(2015-2017) - working in Manhattan
Jeremiah Ruiz
(summer 2017) - BS student at K-State
Aolani Zidek
(2016-17) - B.S. student at U. Hawaii
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) - Veterinarian in KC

REU Students
Faith Atkinson (2021) from West Texas A&M
Lizeth Telleria (2017) from Cal St. Poly - Pomona
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

Shramps experiment
Willie Wildcat and Yasen

  Last Update: 03-Jul-2022