Smith Lab

The overarching goal of my lab’s research is to better understand the consequences of human-caused global changes. We address long-standing, yet highly relevant questions about the functional roles of species in ecosystems, the causes and impacts of loss and gain of genetic and species diversity (at the population, community and ecosystem level), the factors that influence species coexistence and patterns of species abundance, and the relative strength of bottom-up (resources) vs. top-down (consumers) controls in structuring communities

Dr. Melinda D. Smith
Principal Investigator

Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Colorado State University

I am a plant community ecologist interested in understanding patterns, determinants, and dynamics of diversity and species abundance and how these relate to ecosystem function. I conduct most of my research in the field; however, I also conduct lab work. I focus exclusively on grassland ecosystems, in particular the shortgrass steppe, mixedgrass and tallgrass prairies in the Central Great Plains of the U.S, but also work with collaborators in grasslands in South Africa and Inner Mongolia China.


Carina Donne 
PhD Student

Carina received his Bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Art and his Master’s degree in Integrative Biology from the University of Iowa, where he studied the evolution and ecology of an invasive freshwater snail species. Carina also pursued his passion of science communication through his involvements with the Iowa City Science Booster Club. At Colorado State University, Carina brings his expertise into the exciting world of soil microbiology.  Specifically, Carina is researching how microbial communities respond to drought in grassland ecosystems. Through his research, Carina hopes to further our understanding and appreciation of the vital role soil microbes play in ecosystems processes. When he’s not in the lab or out in the field, you can find Carina mastering Legend of Zelda games, working on artwork, or basking in the great outdoors of Colorado.

Alicia Lenners
Master’s Student

Alicia is a Master’s student, originally from Beatrice, NE. She graduated with her Bachelors in Environmental Studies, with an emphasis in Biology and Water Science. From 2013-2015, she worked in Paraguay as Peace Corps volunteer, organizing projects in environmental conservation, and from 2017-2020, she worked for the EPA in the Biological and Economic Analysis Division, reviewing pesticide registrations. Now as a student at CSU, her thesis project will focus on studying the recovery of plant communities in the Colorado shortgrass steppe after a four-year extreme drought. Her hobbies include photography, crochet, and collecting musical instruments without actually playing them.

Nico Matallana
PhD Candidate

Nico received his undergraduate degrees from the University of Montana, where he studied restoration ecology and plant biology. After several years of traveling and working seasonally as a botanist, he started his current research in Montana’s Glacier National Park. He is collaborating with park managers and CSU researchers to study how bison reintroduction may affect the park’s ecology after more than 120 years of their exclusion. Through his research, he hopes to answer questions that will help guide management and answer pertinent ecological questions.

Mary Linabury 
PhD Candidate

Mary is interested in how climate change influences plant communities and how it will shape future ecosystems. She has particular interest in plant species composition and wants to understand how changes to composition will affect the surrounding ecosystem, including functionality, stability, and interaction networks. Her research aims to enhance our ability to predict ecological response to climate change. In addition to these research goals, Mary also has interests in science communication with the goal of improving scientific literacy.

Alex Siggers
PhD Student 

Alex is interested in the temporal dynamics of shifting above– and belowground communities in response to climate extremes. He is currently working on a collaborative project in grassland ecosystems to understand the resilience & recovery of microbial communities following long-term experimental drought. His research also addresses the link between dominant plant species and soil microbial communities across the Great Plains. Alex received his Bachelor’s in Biology from Georgia College & State University in 2021 and worked extensively with multiple nonprofit organizations during his  undergraduate experience. 


Tim Ohlert, PhD

Tim is a plant community ecologist and biodiversity scientist using field experiments around the world to understand the impacts of human-caused global change on grassland and desert ecosystems. In the Smith Lab, Tim manages and synthesizes data from the Drought Network’s International Drought Experiment, a globally distributed coordinated drought experiment. Tim’s research also investigates how modern methods for quantifying diversity through plant traits can inform our understanding of biodiversity in ecological communities. Tim received his PhD from the University of New Mexico under the advisement of Dr. Scott Collins and he is an active member of the Sevilleta (SEV) and Central Arizona-Phoenix (CAP) Long Term Ecological Research programs in New Mexico and Arizona.  



Kate Wilkins, Ph.D is the Colorado Regional Conservation Director at the Denver Zoo, email:

Deron Burkepile, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at The University of California, Santa Barbara

Catherine E. Burns, Ph.D. works with The Nature Conservancy, California Chapter and is Associate Director, Water and Habitat for Nature

Stephanie Eby, Ph.D. is a visiting lecturer at Assumption College, Framingham State University, and Northeastern University

Sally Koerner, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina- Greensboro

Nathan Lemoine, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at Marquette University

Wei Mao, P.h.D. is an Associate Professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences

Qiang Yu, Ph.D. is a Professor at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences

Graduate Students

Maggie Ross (M.S 2022) is a Plant community specialist with the Minnesota Biological Survey

Leena Vilonen (Ph.D. 2022) is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at University of Hawaii, email:

Jesse Gray (Ph.D 2022) is a Postdoctoral Research at University of Colorado – Boulder

Francis Chavez (Ph.D. 2020) e-mail:

Andrew Felton (Ph.D. 2018) is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Utah State University

Lauren Baur (M.S. 2016) is a Research Associate with the EDGE Project

Beth Forrestel (Ph.D. 2015) is an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Davis

John Dietrich (M.S. 2015)

Ava Hoffman (P.h.D. 2019) is a Data Scientist with the Boston Consulting Group

Kimberly (Kim) La Pierre (Ph.D. 2013) is a Senior Scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Meghan Avolio (Ph.D. 2012) is an Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University

Cynthia Chang (Ph.D. 2011) is an Assistant Professor at University of Washington, Bothell