Melinda Smith

Melinda D. Smith, Principal Investigator

Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Colorado State University

phone: (203) 432 9422

I am a plant community ecologist interested in understanding patterns, determinants, and dynamics of diversity and species abundance and how these relate to the functioning of ecosystems. Much of my research is conducted in the field, though my research does involve lab work as a well. I focus on grassland ecosystems, in particular tallgrass prairie in the Central Great Plains of the U.S., but I am also initiating research locally in New England old field and salt marsh communities.


Nathan Lemoine, Post-Doctoral Associate

Nate received his BS in Biology from the University of Richmond, a MS in Marine Sciences from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, and finally his PhD. in Biology from Florida International University. He is a community ecologist that seeks to understand how climate change will impact plant community structure and ecosystem function through altered trophic interactions, particularly those of insect herbivores.    Nate’s website


Francis Chaves

Francis Chaves, Graduate Student

Francis is a Ph.D. student from Colombia where she received her Masters degree in Ecology from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. She has experience with plant ecology in tropical high altitude ecosystems. As a Fulbright Scholar in the GDPE program, she is currently investigating the role of biodiversity in ecosystem function in grassland ecosystems, to understand the functional consequences of species loss, particularly dominant species, and the factors that drive plant community responses to the loss of species.



Andrew Felton, Graduate Student

Andrew Felton is a Ph.D. student from Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he received his undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota. As an undergraduate, Andrew spent time working in tall grass prairies on research efforts related to understanding the ecological consequences of climate change and biofuel crop implementation, as well as a semester studying the ecological services of lowland Nepal. Using plant communities as a tractable model, he is interested in how human induced alterations to these communities will impact their structure and function, and consequently the ecosystem services they can supply.


Jesse Gray

Jesse Gray, Graduate Student

Jesse is a Ph.D. student from Salt Lake City, Utah, where he received his bachelor’s degree in biology with emphases in genetics, and organismal and environmental biology. He is currently focusing on the differential effects of predicted climate change on the genotypic diversity of grass species in the tallgrass prairie of eastern Kansas. Jesse is generally interested in the trait-mediated effects of different scales of diversity on one another, the role of co-evolution in competitive community dynamics, and the functional consequences of these interactions in ecosystems.


Ava Hoffman

Ava Hoffman, Graduate Student

Ava is a Ph.D. student from Richmond, Virginia interested in gene expression, drought responses, and genotypic interactions in prairie grasses. She comes from University of Virginia, where she focused on gene screening techniques for agriculture. Studying both the ecology and genetics of Andropogon, she is exploring how dominant species affect ecosystem function. She hopes to integrate her research with ecosystem management in grasslands, sustainable agriculture, and biofuels.    Ava’s website


Lab Alumni


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 a Post-Doctoral Associate at University of South Florida

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

Graduate Students

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

Beth Forrestel (Ph.D. 2015) is a Post-Doctoral Associate at the University of California, Davis

John Dietrich (M.S. 2015)

Kimberly (Kim) La Pierre (Ph.D. 2013) is a Post-Doctoral Associate at the University of California, Berkeley

Meghan Avolio (Ph.D. 2012) is a SESYNC-LTER Postdoctoral Synthesis Fellow

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

Undergraduate Students

Lauren Hallett

Daniel Robotham

Lab Associates

Jeff Carroll

Melissa Johnston

Victoria (Tory) Nelson

Tadj Schreck