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

Shefferson, R. P., T. Kull, M. J. Hutchings, M. Selosse, H. Jacquemyn, K. M. Kellett, E. S. Menges, R. B. Primack, J. Tuomi, K. Alahuta, S. Hurskainen, H. M. Alexander, D. S. Anderson, E. Brys, E. Brzokso, S. Dostalik, K. Gregg, Z. Ipser, A Jakalaniemi, et al. 2018.  Drivers of vegetative dormancy across herbaceous perennial plant species.  Ecology Letters 21: 724-733.

Alexander, H. M., C. D. Collins, A. W. Reed, W. D. Kettle, D. A. Collis, L. D. Christiana, and V. B. Salisbury.  2018.  Effects of removing woody cover on long-term population dynamics of a rare annual plant (Agalinis auriculata): a study comparing remnant prairie and oldfield habitats.  Ecology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.4654.

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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