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Current Graduate Students

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Ben E. Benton - M.S. in Biology expected December 2023

Thesis project: Patterns and process of plant and soil microbe biodiversity in Arkansas River Valley remnant prairies


Ben is co-advised with Dr. Scott A. Mangan (, and he is interested in patterns and process regulating biodiversity with an eye toward conserving rare species and habitats.  Ben joined the lab in August 2021 after graduating from Hendrix College.

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Brendan J. Kosnik - M.S. in Biology expected December 2023

Thesis project: Species distribution modeling of rare Carex sedges in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain and Crowley's Ridge ecoregions.


Brendan joined the lab in April 2021 as a technician assisting on projects on Mississippi River islands.  He started graduate school in August 2021 to pursue his interest in rare sedge biology and conservation. Brendan holds undergraduate degrees from the University of Michigan and Grand Valley State University.

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Grace L. McCartha - M.S. in Biology expected December 2022

Thesis project: Plant community composition of six Lower Mississippi River islands considering elevation and proximity to the White and Arkansas Rivers


Grace joined the Marsico lab after graduating from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, and completing an internship with Americorps and Conservation Legacy at Bandelier National Monument, Los Alamos, New Mexico.  In 2019, Grace was the primary author on a publication in the American Journal of Botany about the biogeography of hyperaccumulating Psychotria, the focus of her undergraduate research.

Jennifer N. Reed - M.A. in Biology, December 2022

Major project: A vascular flora of Poinsett County, Arkansas

Minor project: Exposing collection bias in plant surveys in eastern Arkansas utilizing Poinsett County species richness changes over time


Jennifer graduated with her B.S. in Biology Emphasis in Botany in December 2015, and she has been working on her master's degree to pursue her interests in biodiversity and conservation.  Jennifer is currently a high school teacher at East Poinsett County High School.

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Caity M. Sims - M.S. in Biology expected December 2022

Thesis project: Relations of seasonal flood disturbance with plant flowering phenology


Caity joined the Marsico lab after completing her undergraduate degree in Wildlife/Conservation Biology with a Geoscience minor from Southeast Missouri State University.  A native of the St. Louis region, Caity grew up on the Mississippi River and completed an internship with the Missouri Botanical Garden at the Litzsinger Road Ecology Center.

Diana L. Soteropoulos - Ph.D. in Environmental Science expected May 2022

Dissertation project: Floristics in Arkansas: surveying and quantifying management impact of rare ecosystems, launching floristic quality assessment, and predicting rare plant distribution


As as SUPERB Scholarship Program Biodiversity Scholar, Diana is interested in describing patterns of plant species richness and underlying reasons for community composition in the extremely rare saline barrens of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain in Arkansas.  She now is a full-time state botanist at the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission.

Current Undergraduate Student

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Mathew Jones - B.S. Biology - Botany emphasis expected May 2023

As a SUPERB Scholarship Program Biodiversity Scholar, Mathew joined the Marsico lab in Fall 2019.  He is developing a research project in conjunction with graduate students, Grace McCartha and Caity Sims regarding floristics on Mississippi River islands and batture lands.

Previous Graduate Students

Hazel K. Berríos - M.S. in Biology, May 2019

Thesis title: Species richness patterns and plant size of vascular epiphytes along an elevation gradient in the tropical montane forest of Volcán Maderas, Nicaragua


Hazel is living in Fairbanks, Alaska, where she works at the Fairbanks Soil & Water Conservation District.

Dr. David Burge - M.S. in Environmental Science, August 2014

Thesis title: Relations of water quality, land-use buffers, and diatom communities of connected depressions within the Cache River Watershed, Arkansas, USA


David completed his thesis on a highly collaborative project that has included an Ecotoxicologist, an Environmental Chemist, a USGS Aquatic Biologist, and the diatom folks at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory.  He used GIS tools to investigate water-quality predictors based on land-use buffers and diatom community metrics to relate the impacts of water quality on community structure in a particular habitat of bottomland hardwood swamps in eastern Arkansas.  Through his research, David discovered a new diatom species, previously unknown to science, which he described along with collaborator Mark Edlund of the Science Museum of Minnesota.  David has now completed his Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota. Currently he is working as a phytoplankton scientist at the University of Minnesota Duluth Natural Resources Research Institute.

Dr. Anastasia M. W. Cooper - M.A. in Biology, May 2014 (completed under the supervision of Dr. Tanja McKay)

Research emphasis: Host plant defense signaling in response to a coevolved herbivore combats introduced herbivore attack


Anastasia produced one lead-author publication and a co-authored publication focused on understanding the invasive insect pest Cactoblastis cactorum in comparison to a similar native stem borer Melitara prodenialis.  Together we discovered that host plants defend vigorously against the native herbivore, but lack defense responses against the newly associated species.  We also discovered that these defense limitations can be overcome somewhat when defending plants grow in the presence of non-defending hosts.  Anastasia completed a Ph.D. in Entomology with Dr. Kun Yan Zhu at Kansas State University where she is currently a postdoctoral researcher.

Dylan P. DeRouen - M.A. in Biology, May 2020

Major project: Assessing vascular plant species richness in Big Lake and Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuges

Minor project: Lesson plan and presentation on wetland plants and adaptations to wetland conditions for university undergraduate curriculum.


As a SUPERB Scholarship Program Biodiversity Scholar, Dylan conducted necessary baseline vascular plant inventories in two regional wetland National Wildlife Refuges in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain (i.e., Delta) region of Arkansas.  A native of southern Louisiana, Dylan brought a Cajun spice to the lab.  He has returned to Louisiana to work as the botany coordinator for BREC, the parish division of parks and natural resources for East Baton Rouge Parish.

Dr. Meghan Foard - M.S. in Environmental Science, August 2014

Thesis title: Causes and consequences of Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense Lour.) invasion in hydrologically-altered forested wetlands


Meghan completed her thesis focused on the role of hydrologic alteration and Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) invasion on bottomland hardwood forest tree growth and community composition.  She designed and implemented field and greenhouse experiments to investigate mechanisms by which L. sinense became a dominant understory shrub.  She has also used observations and dendrochronology as tools to investigate the impacts of channelization and L. sinense invasion.  During the pursuit of her master's degree, Meghan was awarded an NSF GK12 fellowship, which gave her the opportunity to work in a rural middle school to help improve science education.  She also established the Art in Science Club, linking art and science in outreach for school-age children.  Meghan finished her Ph.D. at the University of Idaho and now works for the Nez Perce Tribe Water Quality Program.


Kari M. Harris - M.A. in Biology, August 2014

Major Project: Digitizing specimens in a small herbarium: A viable workflow for collections working with limited resources

Minor Project: STAR Herbarium Policy


Kari is an honor's undergraduate of the lab who returned to work on her Master of Arts degree.  During her graduate degree, Kari became a national leader in student involvement in preserving and curating natural history collections.  She presented at several regional, national, and international meetings and topic-specific workshops.  She was a founding member of the Arkansas State University Natural History Collections Curation Club (NHC3) and served one year as the organization's president.  She provided guidance to starting similar groups at other campuses.  is a founding member of the Emerging Professionals Group, a standing committee in the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections.  For her main project in the lab, Kari imaged and databased all 16,791 accessioned Arkansas flowering plant specimens in the Arkansas State University Herbarium (STAR).  Kari is now Director of Student Research at Arkansas State University.


John M. Kilmer - M.S. in Biology, August 2016

Thesis title: Characterization of chemical profiles produced by Opuntia humifusa in response to herbivory and exogenous methyl jasmonate in comparison to hairy root cultures


John studied the compounds that are produced from defending plants.  His work established the baseline for the chemical nature of the observable induced mucilage production from host plants defending against cactus-boring moths.  John is now a lecturer of biology and environmental health at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Missouri. 

Dr. Ashley N. Schulz - Ph.D. in Environmental Science, May 2020

Dissertation title: Nonnative insect invasions in natural ecosystems: impacts, policy, and evaluation of drivers using underutilized biocontrol datasets


After a postdoctoral research position at Colorado State University under the direction of Dr. Ruth Hufbauer, Ashley is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Forestry at Mississippi State University.  She has been working on a collaborative project forecasting high-impact insect invasions by integrating probability models with i-Tree from urban to continental scales.

India Hughes - M.S. in Biology expected August 2024

Thesis project: Untangling the complex genomics of Saccharum species and hybrids, important in agricultural production and as federal noxious weeds.


India joined the lab in June 2022 after graduating from the University of South Alabama in December 2021.  She is co-advised with Dr. Emily Bellis in the Department of Computer Science and the Center for No-Boundary Thinking.

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