Helen Alexander

Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Primary office:
7006 Haworth Hall

Dr. Alexander studies the ecology and evolution of plant-pathogen interactions; hybridization between crop and wild plants; and long-term demography of rare prairie plants.

Teaching Interests

  • Conservation Biology
  • Introduction to Biostatistics
  • Research Methods
  • Kansas Plants and Landscapes


As a researcher, I am fascinated by the population biology of plants. My work has primarily been in three areas: 1) studies of the ecology and evolution of plant-fungus and plant-virus interactions, 2) research on the population dynamics of wild sunflowers, and the ecology and genetics of hybridization between crop and wild plants, and 3) long-term demographic studies of a rare prairie plant, Mead’s milkweed, including using “mark recapture” models to estimate population size, detectability, and probability of survival. As an educator, I teach courses in conservation biology, biostatistics, and research methods. I have been fortunate to win several teaching awards, including a Chancellors Club Teaching Professorship. Finally, my outreach and service activities often involve outdoor education and interactions with secondary school science and math teachers.

Research Interests

  • Ecology and evolution of plant-pathogen interactions
  • Hybridization between crop and wild plants
  • Long-term demography of rare prairie plants

Selected Publications

Dendy, S. P., Tong, B. Alexander, H. M., Fay, P. A., Murray, L. Xing, Y. & Garrett, K. A. (2017). A long-term study of burning effects on a plant pathogen in tallgrass prairie. Plant Pathology, 66, 1308-1317. DOI:

Eager, E. A., Pilson, D. Alexander, H. M., & Tenhumberg, B. (2017). Assessing the Influence of Temporal Autocorrelations on the Population Dynamics of a Disturbance Specialist Plant Population in a Random Environment. The American Naturalist, 190, 570-583. DOI:10.1086/692911 http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/692911

Chang, H. Alexander, H. M., Mutegi, E. & Snow, A. A. (2017). Habitat restoration and native grass conservation: a case study of Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). Restoration Ecology. DOI:10.1111/rec.12599

Jaksetic, N. Foster, B. L., Bever, J. D., Schwarting, J. & Alexander, H. M. (2017). Sowing density effects and patterns of colonization in a prairie restoration. Restoration Ecology. DOI:10.1111/rec.12550

Alexander, H. M., Bruns, E. Schebor, H. & Malmstrom, C. M. (2017). Crop-associated virus infection in a native perennial grass: reduction in plant fitness and dynamic patterns of virus detection. Journal of Ecology, 105, 1021-1031.

Malmstrom, C. M., Bigelow, P. Trębicki, P. Busch, A. K., Friel, C. Cole, E. Abdel-Azim, H. Phillippo, C. & Alexander, H. M. (2017). Crop-associated virus reduces the rooting depth of non-crop perennial native grass more than non-crop-associated virus with known viral suppressor of RNA silencing (VSR). Virus research. DOI:10.1016/j.virusres.2017.07.006

Pace, B. A., Alexander, H. M., Emry, D. J., & Mercer, K. L. (2016). Reliable Method for Assessing Seed Germination, Dormancy, and Mortality under Field Conditions. Journal of visualized experiments : JoVE,(117). DOI:10.3791/54663

Malmstrom, C. M., & Alexander, H. M. (2016). Effects of crop viruses on wild plants. Current opinion in virology, 19, 30-6. DOI:10.1016/j.coviro.2016.06.008

Bever, J. D., Mangan, S. A., & Alexander, H. M. (2015). Maintenance of Plant Species Diversity by Pathogens. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 46, 305-325. DOI:10.1146/annurev-ecolsys-112414-054306

Kost, M. A., Alexander, H. M., Emry, D. J., & Mercer, K. L. (2015). Life history traits and phenotypic selection among sunflower crop-wild hybrids and their wild counterpart: implications for crop allele introgression. EVOLUTIONARY APPLICATIONS, 8(5), 510-524. DOI:10.1111/eva.12261

Alexander, H. M. (2015). ECOLOGY Shared ancestry predicts disease levels. NATURE, 520(7548), 446-447.

Pace, B. A., Alexander, H. M., Emry, J. D., & Mercer, K. L. (2015). Seed fates in crop-wild hybrid sunflower: crop allele and maternal effects. EVOLUTIONARY APPLICATIONS, 8(2), 121-132. DOI:10.1111/eva.12236

Roy, B. A., Alexander, H. M., Davidson, J. Campbell, F. T., Burdon, J. J., Sniezko, R. & Brasier, C. (2014). Increasing forest loss worldwide from invasive pests requires new trade regulations. FRONTIERS IN ECOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT, 12(8), 457-465. DOI:10.1890/130240

Alexander, H. M., Emry, D. J., Pace, B. A., Kost, M. A., Sparks, K. A., & Mercer, K. L. (2014). ROLES OF MATERNAL EFFECTS AND NUCLEAR GENETIC COMPOSITION CHANGE ACROSS THE LIFE CYCLE OF CROP-WILD HYBRIDS . AMERICAN JOURNAL OF BOTANY, 101(7), 1176-1188. DOI:10.3732/ajb.1400088

Alexander, H. M., Mauck, K. E., Whitfield, A. E., Garrett, K. A., & Malmstrom, C. M. (2014). Plant-virus interactions and the agro-ecological interface. EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PLANT PATHOLOGY, 138(3, SI), 529-547. DOI:10.1007/s10658-013-0317-1

Mercer, K. L., Emry, D. J., Snow, A. A., Kost, M. A., Pace, B. A., & Alexander, H. M. (2014). Fitness of crop-wild hybrid sunflower under competitive conditions: implications for crop-to-wild introgression. PloS one, 9(10), e109001. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0109001

Alexander, H. M., Reed, A. W., Kettle, W. D., Slade, N. A., Bodbyl-Roels, S. A., Collins, C. D., & Salisbury, V. (2012). Detection and plant monitoring programs: lessons from an intensive survey of Asclepias meadii with five observers. PLoS ONE, 7(12), e52762. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0052762 http://hdl.handle.net/1808/13354

Alexander, H. M., Foster, B. L., Ballantyne, F. Collins, C. D., Antonovics, J. & Holt, R. D. (2012). Metapopulations and metacommunities: combining spatial and temporal perspectives in plant ecology. Journal of Ecology, 100, 88-103.

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