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 
Master’s 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 the interactions between the plant host and microbial communities and how they change under drought. Through his research, Carina hopes to further our understanding and appreciation of the vital role soil microbes play in ecosystems processes. 

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 passionate about the American great plains. She hopes to enhance our ability to predict ecological response to climate change through resource-alteration research. Her work seeks to understand how long-term nutrient addition alters plant communities (and their traits) and how additional short-term resource alteration may interact with these patterns. Mary is also passionate about science communication and hopes to promote scientific interest by combining her love of art and ecological research.

Alex Siggers
PhD Candidate


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. 

 Maddie Amick
Master’s Student


Maddie received her Bachelor’s degree in Organismal Biology and Ecology from Colorado College where she studied the evolution and physiology of prickly pears (Opuntia spp.) across the front range. At Colorado State University, Maddie brings her knowledge and experience to study the effects of drought and recovery in grassland populations. Her work focuses on the usage of seedbanks and seed dispersal after drought as a mechanism of recovery. She hopes to help increase our knowledge and create effective response treatments to drought through her research.

 Adriana Jacobi
Lab Technician


Adriana is interested in the drought recovery response of the state grass of Colorado, Bouteloua gracilis. Her ecological background extends from rare plant conservation work with the Denver Botanic Gardens, to conducting research on the effects of deforestation on understory plants in Monteverde, Costa Rica. Adriana received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado Boulder where she double majored in Environmental Studies and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. In her free time, Adriana enjoys birding, skiing, and hiking.


Francis Chaves Rodriguez


I am a Colombian plant community ecologist with interest in the role of plant community structure and composition on ecosystem function, particularly understanding the functional role of dominant species. I am also interested in the functional consequences of species loss, the mechanisms for recovery of plant communities and ecosystem function, and how they are affected by climate change. Currently, in the Smith Lab, I am collaborating with a long-term experiment understanding the impacts of climate change and its interactions with drivers of grassland ecosystems. I received a PhD from Colorado State University advised by Dr. Melinda Smith. Also, I had the opportunity to implement an experiment on the effect of plant biodiversity on ecosystem function as postdoc in South Dakota State University

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: KWilkins@denverzoo.org

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

Alicia Lenners (M.S. 2023)

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

Leena Vilonen (Ph.D. 2022) is the Executive Director of at the Global Soil Initiative at Colorado State University email:  leena.vilonen@colostate.edu

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

Francis Chavez (Ph.D. 2020) e-mail: fachaves@rams.colostate.edu

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