People of the Smith Lab

Melinda Smith

Melinda D. Smith, Principal Investigator

Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Yale University
Box 208106
Yale University
New Haven, CT 06520-8106 USA
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.

Melinda Smith's CV

Shenghua Yuan

Shenghua Yuan, Post-Doctoral Associate

Shenghua's research interests lie in the gene regulation response to external stimuli (bending, gravitropism et al.) or changes (draught, saline condition) using quantatitive real-time PCR, array technique and promoter analysis, and gene function test using reverse genetics (gene mutation) or forward genetics (protein function test). She is investigating the genomic response of two native species Andropogon gerardii and Sorghastrum nutans in tallgrass prairie.
Email:    Shenghua Yuan's Page

Shenghua Yuan

Nicole Hagenah, Post-Doctoral Associate

Nicole's research interests lie in addressing ecological questions within the context of Conservation Biology. Her current research focuses on the impacts of natural disturbances and global environmental changes on mesic savanna grassland ecosystems. She is particularly interested in the interactive effects of grazing, fire and global climate change (primarily through altered precipitation) on South African savanna grasslands and North American tallgrass prairie.
Email:    Nicole Hagenah's Page


Meghan Avolio, Post-Doctoral Researcher

Meghan is interested in how plant communities respond to climate change. She is focusing on two aspects of the plant community, the genotypic diversity within a dominant species, and the mutualistic mycorrhizal fungal community associated with the plant community. Her dissertation research is focused on understanding the impact of climate change on a complex biotic community, the tallgrass prairie, and aims to link genotypic diversity of dominant species with their associated mutualists, and assess the implications of these interactions for the plant community.
Email:    Meghan Avolio's Page

Kimberly Komatsu

Kim Komatsu La Pierre, Graduate Student

Kim is interested in the ways top-down and bottom-up forces interact to influence grassland communities. She is currently focusing on how changes in light availability, plant tissue chemistry, and litter quality, in response to alterations in resource availability and herbivory, may be driving changes in primary production and diversity within grasslands. In addition, Kim is interested in how changes in soil resource availability and vertebrate herbivory may feed up to influence the invertebrate community or drive woody encroachment into grasslands.
Email:    Kim Komatsu La Pierre's Page

Beth Forrestel

Beth Forrestel, Graduate Student

Beth is generally interested in how phylogenetic and functional diversity play a role in the maintenance of biodiversity. For her research, she aims to study a series of globe-wide comparisons to understand how the biogeographical history and phylogenetic structure of plant communities are linked to ecosystem function.

Karin Burghardt

Karin Burghardt, Graduate Student

Karin has a broad interest in plant-insect interactions both at the individual species interaction level and at the community level. She is interested in the reciprocal relationship between plant species diversity and insect community composition; specifically, how those interactions might impact energy flow to upper trophic levels and/or ecosystem functioning. Previously she investigated how the diversity, abundance, and community structure of Lepidoptera populations differ between native and non-native woody plant species in the northeastern United States

Mark Hoover

Mark Hoover, Research Assistant

Mark is interested in salt marsh conservation and management with regards to climate change. His previous research utilized remote sensing and GIS to locate potential upland areas for future marsh habitat in response to increased rates of sea level rise. Currently, Mark is studying the effects of increased temperature on high marsh plant communities. In particular, he is looking at how increased temperatures could alter plant growth leading to changes in high marsh accretion and overall marsh elevation. He is also working on a remote sensing project that utilized Landsat imagery to analyze changes in high marsh phenology since 1970.

Lab Alumni


Deron Burkepile Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at Florida International University

Catherine E. Burns Ph.D. is a Director of Science at The Nature Conservancy North Carolina Chapter

Graduate Students

Cynthia Chang is currently working with Dr. Jeremy Lichstein at University of Florida, and will be moving to University of Washington to do a NSF postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Janneke HilleRisLambers in spring 2012

Undergraduate Students

After a Fulbright to Australia, Lauren Hallett is now a graduate student at UC Berkeley in the Suding Lab

Lab Techs

Tadj Schreck is now at UC Irvine in the Mooney Lab

Victoria (Tory) Nelson