Principal Investigator

Theresa M. Culley

Trained as a plant population ecologist specializing in the evolution of plant breeding systems, Theresa has a variety of interests which are reflected in the projects in the lab. These range from invasive species to highly endangered species, and involve a variety of tools including different genetic markers, pollination studies, field manipulations, and ecophysiology. Theresa currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief of Applications in Plant Sciences and also leads a team assessing invasive plants for the state of Ohio. See also her information at ResearchGate.

Current Graduate Students

Francis Cartieri

Francis Cartieri (MS student)

Francis is working on an empirical study investigating how to define a species within the Camassia species complex, using integrative taxonomy of different data sets (genetic, phylogenetic, morphometric, and ecological niche modeling). Such research is not only part of his MS degree in biology, but it also complements Francis’ concurrent pursuit of a PhD degree in the Philosophy Department.


Megan Philipott (PhD student)

Megan is coadvised with Dr. Valerie Pence at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden’s Center for the Reintroduction of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) facility to examine the effect of different tissue storage technique on DNA quality of plant tissue.


Ben Merritt (PhD student)

Ben is just developing his project in collaboration with Dr. Steve Matter. He is interested in using his expertise in GIS to answer ecological questions involving invasive speciee and/or alpine environments. Previous to his enrollment in the graduate program, Ben worked in the lab as an undergraduate researcher and is an author of two papers.


Robert Tunison  (PhD student)

Rob has been focusing on microsatellite analysis of Camassia and has been working on his own study developing a pollen-based PCR analysis of herbarium samples. He has now transitioned to graduate school where he is interested in different floral color morphs.


Robert Elam   (MS student)

Robert was instrumental in helping Susan Jaconis with her air pollution study during Summer, 2013 and is now continuing with his own project focusing on the relative effects of diesel and biodiesel on plant health and reproduction. He is starting graduate school this fall and is interested in the effect of light on stomatal conductance in a polluted environment.

Current Undergraduate Students

Ilana and Yulia Vinnik 

Ilana and Yulia have been instrumental in several different projects in the Culley lab. Thye have been involved in microsatellite analysis of pollen and honey samples, invasive plant assessments of introduced species in Ohio, and most recently, a soybean experiement to look at maternal and fitness effects of exposure to diesel exhaust.


Kala Stephens

Kala has been indispensible in examining pollen and particulate matter deposition on stigmas collected from plants along various types of roadways.

Past Graduate Students


Sunita Yadav (PhD, 2015)

Sunita designed a project with the Hawaiian endemic plant genus, Schiedea, combining her expertise with GIS with her interest in plant reproductive biology, breeding systems, and population genetics.


Alina Avanesyan (PhD, 2014)  – Native Versus Exotic Grasses: Interactions Between Generalist Insect Herbivores and Their Host Plants

Alina focused on plant-insect interactions. Specifically, she is examining two questions: (1) Do invasive and native plants differ in their physiological responses to generalist herbivore insects, such as grasshoppers?, and (2) Is feeding behavior of grasshoppers different with regards to invasive and native plant species? Alina has also develoed a molecular technique using PCR for accurate detection of plant meals from grasshoppers’ guts (see article).

Susan Jaconis

Susan Jaconis (PhD, 2015)

Susan was interested in the effects of air pollution, namely particulate matter (PM), on the health and reproduction of plant populations. She is working in collaboration with faculty in the School of Energy, Environmental, Biological and Medical Engineering to develop an empirical investigation at UC’s Center for Field Studies.


Allison Mastalerz, MS (July 2013) – The Role of Ornamental Gardening in Forest Plant Invasions Across an Urban-Rural Gradient

After working in the Culley lab as an undergraduate student, Allison entered the graduate program to pursue her interest in invasive species, specifically those in the early stages of invasions. She compared invasion metrics and surveyed forests in urban and rural areas of Southwestern Ohio to examine the invasion dynamics of ornamental plant species.

Rick Stokes

Richard Stokes, PhD (August 2012)Reproductive Biology and Population Genetics of the American Trout Lily

An interest in Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) led Richard to develop a research project that examines the self-incompatibility of this spring ephemeral as well as its genetic stucture. His work involved both field and lab components, and he developed microsatellite markers in this species. He has also developed a technique using PCR on individual pollen grains from herbarium specimens. UPDATE: Richard is now an Instructor at the University of IL, Springfield.


Zachary Copfer, MA (July 2012)

Zachary is a artist-scientist who worked in the Culley lab on his MFA degree in photography though the DAAP program at the University of Cincinnati. Zachary developed a new technique to make bacterial portraits (inventing a new medium called bacteriography that combines photographic process with microbiological practices). His blog can be found here.


Jessica Brzyski, PhD (July 2011) – Genetics and Reproduction in a Rare, Clonal Shrub From Riparian Habitats

Jessica studied the federally threatened species, Spiraea virginiana, an endemic shrub of riparian habitats.  She developed microsatellite markers, with which she completed a genetic study of populations throughout eastern North America.  In addition, she quantified sexual reproduction in the species as well as its interaction with S. japonica, an introduced shrub. UPDATE: Jessica is now on the faculty of Seton Hill in PA


Jennifer Sayegh, MS (June 2011) – The Targeting of the Development of Chemotherapeutic Agents: Catharanthus roseus Alkaloids

Jennifer was one of the first students to undergo our departmental 4+1 program in which undergraduates start taking graduate classes in their 4th year, continue in their 5th year, and then earn both BS and MS degrees in 5 years. Jennifer was interested in medical botany and conducted a literature survey on alkaloids derived from Vinca.


Ashley Kuenzi, MS (July 2010) – Hybridization in Schiedea Using Chloroplast and Nuclear Markers

Ashley developed chloroplast microsatellite primers for the Hawaiian endemic genus, Schiedea.  She used these markers in conjunction with nucelar markers developed in our lab to look at issues of hybridization and gene flow within the genus. UPDATE: Ashley is now a Laboratory Manager at UC.


Nicole Hardiman, PhD (August, 2008) – Ecology of Pyrus calleryana, a New Invasive Species in North America

Nicole was interested in the formation and effects of invasive plant species.  Sheexamined therecent invasion of the Bradford pear and related cultivars into areas of the northeastern United States.  UPDATE:  Nicole moved to Arkansas where she continues to be involved local conservation organizations and now works at the University of Arkansas..


Matthew Klooster, PhD (June, 2008) – Pollination Ecology & Population Genetics of the Monotropoideae (Ericaceae)

Matt studied several non-photosynthetic, myco-heterotrophic species within the Ericaceae, namely Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora), Pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys) and Sweet Pinesap (Monotropsis odorata).  He quantified pollinator visitation and self-compatibility of each species, in an effort to understand the mechanism for gene flow within and between populationsHe also developed microsatellite markers. UPDATE: Matt is now an Assistant Professor at Centre College in KY.


Stephen Washburn, M.S. – Impact of Ambient Ozone Levels on Lichen Flora in the Greater Cincinnati Area

Stephen examined whether there are observable impacts from air pollution (especially O3) on the lichen flora of the Greater Cincinnati region.


David Moerlein, M.S. – Effect of Airborne Pollutants on Plants in Cincinnati

David studied the ability of house plants to filter small particulate matter (PM) from the air within enclosed indoor systems. UPDATE:  Dave graduated from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and is currently working for Google in Ann Arbor, MI.

Past Undergraduate Students
Kim Kim Thompson

As part of the Women In Science & Engineering program at UC, Kim studied the species richness and diversity of several wetlands in the Cincinnati area.  UPDATE:  Kim graduated from the Master’s Program in Secondary Education at UC.  After teaching high school science courses in the Cincinnati area, Kim returned to UC to earn her PhD and now is an Instructor at Ohio University.

Anne Anne Wick

Anne extracted DNA from samples of Viola pubescens collected throughout the Greater Cincinnati area.  She also worked on an ISSR project that explored the effect of urbanization on the genetic structure and levels of gene flow.  UPDATE:  Anne attended the graduate program in environmental science at Miami University in Ohio.


MaryAnn Paul

During her time in the lab, MaryAnn learned molecular techniques, such as DNA extraction, PCR, and microsatellite design for the yellow violet, Viola pubescens.

Sarah Sarah Sbita

Sarah worked with Viola pubescens,extracting DNA and running PCR to study the genetic structure of urban populations in the Cincinnati area.  UPDATE:  Sarah attended medical school in northern Ohio after working as a laboratory technician with Dr. Elke Buschbeck.


Brian Robin

As a laboratory researcher, Brian was responsible for DNA extractions and PCR for pear samples from Maryland.


Sarah McCann

Sarah conducted pear DNA extractions, PCR, and information databasing during her time in the lab.

Anna Anna Fiskin

As a member of the Women In Science and Engineering Program at UC, Anna traveled to Belarus where she apprenticed to a local healer.  She documented local plants used to treat a variety of medical conditions and the collection techniques necessary to maximize the potency of these plants. UPDATE:  Anna worked towards a joint M.D. degree and a M.S. degree in medical anthropology at Case Western University before attending Oxford University.

Sunflower Nichole Cordell

Nichole conducted an independent undergraduate research project looking at the effects of acid rain on the ecophysiology and biomass of sunflower (Helianthus annuus).

Kap Kapilan Rajagopalan

Kap assisted in the development of microsatellite markers for buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and was responsible for extracting DNA from samples collected from all over the world.

gel Adam Hoenle

Adam assisted Matt Klooster in the development of microsatellite markers for Monotropa hypopitys.

Chicory Jessica Gottmann

Jessica designed and completed an independent study project looking at the effects of airborne particulate matter on plant reproduction.  She has now graduated with her BS degree and attended the UC Pharmacy program.

TeganTracy Tegan Smedley (top) and Tracy Reeb (bottom)

Tegan and Tracy together began developing microsatellite markers for the invasive species, Autumn Olive and Russian Olive.  UPDATE:  Tegan and Tracy both enrolled in the UC Pharmacy program.

Kelly Kelly Putnam

Kelly’s project was to assist in the development of microsatellite markers in the Hawaiian endemic species, Schiedea adamantis.  After completing this work, she also helped out in a population genetic project with a related species, Schiedea globosaUPDATE:  Kelly recently obtained her PhD in nutritional science at the University of Kentucky. She is now post-docing in California.

Andy Andy Schwartz

Andy worked on daffodils to develop Inter-Simple Sequence Repeat (ISSR) genetic markers and microsatellite markers to identify the different daffodil cultivars.

Kayla Kayla Phelps

Kayla led a survey of ash trees in the city of Montgomery, Ohio.  In addition to using GPS to identify the location of each tree, she also collected leaf samples for DNA analysis to identify the level of genetic variation in this species before it was exposed to the Emerald Ash Borer.

Mike Michael Brunner

Mike was interested in the spread of Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii)in southwestern Ohio.  He began developing genetic markers for the species as well as using GPS technology to map out the spatial distribution of invasive populations.

pear Helena Polychroniou

Helena participated on the Callery pear project where she was responsible for comparing the reproductive output of different cultivars as well as quantifying their outcrossing rates.

pear Jennifer Hawks

Jennifer had been responsible for several projects in the lab, including a preliminary soil study of allelopathy in the Callery pears, DNA extraction of Rhamnus samples, and microsatellite analysis of pear scion and rootstock.

JR Jules Rosen

Jules learned DNA extraction techniques as well as PCR to gain experience working in a lab.


Svetlana Stancheva

Beginning in Winter 2011, Svetlana bacame proficient in DNA extraction protocols, especially with our new 96-well plate extraction technique. She also learned about PCR and assisted in the Japanese stiltgrass study.

Cleo Cleo Nguyen

Cleo assisted Katherine Finan in her soil project and learned about DNA extraction techniques using Japanese stiltgrass.

MB Melanie Brusky

Melanie worked with Megan on genetic studies dealing with the Hawaiian endemic shrubs, Schiedea adamantis and S. globosa. They analzyed microsatellite and allozyme data.

Megan Megan Phillpot

A genetic focus on Hawaiian Schiedeaspecies was Megan’s project, dealing with both a genetic bottleneck event in S. adamantis and dispersal of S. globosa. Megan accompanied Theresa Culley and Sunita Yadav to Hawaii in 2012 for fieldwork. Megan is now a grad student in lab.

Sunflower Margaret Schuster

Margaret became proficient in DNA extractions of plants and took care of our plants in the greenhouse.

Stephanie Albers

Stephanie learned about DNA extractions and worked on learning PCR as part of our stiltgrass study. Katherine

Katherine Finan

Katherine combined her interests in botany and geology in a study examining vegetational and soil changes in a local woodlot in Cincinnati over the past 80+ years.

Kathy Little

Kathy helped out with DNA extractions with various projects, as well as assisting Kim Thompson with her Maya study.

Alex Zumberger

Alex was a key assistant in Kim Thompson’s genetic work on Manilkara sapota.


Ben Merritt and Josh Jones

Ben and Josh examined the ecophysiology (photosynthetic rate, stomatal conductance, and water use efficiency) in invasive Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana) under normal and drought-stressed conditions, using the LI-COR 6400 infrared gas analyzer.


Cameron Brown

Cameron was responsible for stomatal counts on leaf tissue of plants exposed to diesel exhaust as part of Susan Jaconis’ PhD experiment.


Ali Meier 

Ali assisted Susan Jaconis with the design and implemenation of her air pollution study during Summer, 2013, and continued in the lab with microscopic examination of floral structures.


Sher Gill 

Sher was our resident expert in the 96-well DNA extraction technique and is currentlty working on a genetic study involving introduced and native populations of the invasive Japanese Stiltgrass..