Helen Alexander

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 [Journal Articles]. Plant Pathology, 66, 1308–1317. https://doi.org/10.1111/pa.12678
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 [Journal Articles]. The American Naturalist, 190, 570–583. https://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).  [Journal Articles]. Restoration Ecology. Published. https://doi.org/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 [Journal Articles]. Restoration Ecology. Published. https://doi.org/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 Articles]. 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). [Journal Articles]. Virus Research. Published. https://doi.org/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 Articles]. Journal of Visualized Experiments : JoVE, 117. https://doi.org/10.3791/54663
Malmstrom, C. M., & Alexander, H. M. (2016). Effects of crop viruses on wild plants. [Journal Articles]. Current Opinion in Virology, 19, 30–36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.coviro.2016.06.008
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 [Journal Articles]. EVOLUTIONARY APPLICATIONS, 8(5), 510–524. https://doi.org/10.1111/eva.12261
Alexander, H. M. (2015). ECOLOGY Shared ancestry predicts disease levels [Journal Articles]. 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 [Journal Articles]. EVOLUTIONARY APPLICATIONS, 8(2), 121–132. https://doi.org/10.1111/eva.12236
Bever, J. D., Mangan, S. A., & Alexander, H. M. (2015). Maintenance of Plant Species Diversity by Pathogens [Journal Articles]. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 46, 305–325. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-ecolsys-112414-054306
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 [Journal Articles]. FRONTIERS IN ECOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT, 12(8), 457–465. https://doi.org/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 [Journal Articles]. AMERICAN JOURNAL OF BOTANY, 101(7), 1176–1188. https://doi.org/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 [Journal Articles]. EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PLANT PATHOLOGY, 138(3, SI), 529–547. https://doi.org/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. [Journal Articles]. PloS One, 9(10), e109001. https://doi.org/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 [Journal Articles]. PLoS ONE, 7(12), e52762. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0052762
Alexander, H. M., Foster, B. L., Ballantyne, F., IV, Collins, C. D., Antonovics, J., & Holt, R. D. (2012). Metapopulations and metacommunities: combining spatial and temporal perspectives in plant ecology [Journal Articles]. Journal of Ecology, 100, 88–103.

» Show All Publications




    KU-calendar-full event list: EEB Seminars
    EEB Seminars

    EEB Seminars
    There are no upcoming seminars!

    Stay safe and wash your hands!




    One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
    44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
    —U.S. News & World Report
    Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
    5th nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets: Colleges," Military Times
    KU Today