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)


Seton Bachle
Ph.D. Student

I'm a native Nebraskan who grew up spending time in nature (yes there is more to Nebraska than corn), where I grew an appreciation for grasses and prairie systems - however I now focus on the inner beauty of grasses that are hidden from the naked eye. My research primarily focuses on how plant ecophysiological responses are influenced by micro-anatomical traits. I'm searching for small structural components of leaves and roots that may explain a physiological response to drought. The small anatomical structures of photosynthetic tissue and water transport tissues of roots can provide understanding of a species' tolerance to alterations of temperature and precipitation. I’m using Andropogon gerardii as my main study organism because of its large impact on grassland productivity and its large geographic range, allowing me to identify regional plasticity and variation of internal leaf traits. I'm lucky enough to work at Kansas State University, which is home to Konza Prairie LTER. Konza encompasses several different burning, grazing, and nutrient manipulations at watershed scales.


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. 



Marissa Zaricor
MS Student

My passion for being outdoors lead me to a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology but my love for plants landed me an even better opportunity to work in Jesse's eco-phys lab! I have great mentors to work with and I get to work on the beautiful Konza prairie!



Jessica Schauf
Agronomy & Animal Science

I grew up on a family farm which created my love of the outdoors since a very early age. I grew to love plants as I learned more about them in college once I decided to dual major in Agronomy and Animal Science. Working in the EcoPhys lab has provided experience in lab work but also helped me develop an understanding about plants which will help me in my future career. 


Former Post-doctoral Scholars

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

Former Graduate Students

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: Postdoc at USGS-FRESC in Boise, ID

Seton Bachle (2015-2017) M.S. - Biology
Currently: Ph.D. student in Eco-Phys lab at KSU

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 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: Environmental Scientist with Nebraska Dept. of Transportation

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

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

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
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

  Last Update: 04-Sep-2019