Current Members

Diane Debinski

Diane Debinski

Professor, Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology

B.A. 1984, University of Maryland
M.S. 1986, University of Michigan
Ph.D. 1991, Montana State University

I pursue research and teaching in the fields of conservation biology, landscape ecology, global climate change, wildlife biology, and restoration ecology.

Associated Roles:

Chair of the ISU Ecology, Evolutionary Biology Interdepartmental Graduate Program  

ISU Director for the North Central Climate Science Center University Consortium

Advisor for  eButterfly, an online citizen science butterfly tracking checklist   


Jen Vogel

Post-doctoral Research Associate

My research interests are in the areas of restoration ecology and fire management. I am interested in how management and restoration decisions affect habitat and wildlife in grassland ecosystems.

I received my Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in December 2011 from Iowa State University. My dissertation research focused on bird responses to vegetation diversity in restored grasslands in Northwest Iowa. I completed my M.S. degree at Iowa State in 2006 studying butterfly responses to prairie restoration using fire and grazing in the Loess Hills of Iowa.

Tori Pocius

Graduate Student I joined the Debinski Lab in the fall of 2014; I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.  I plan to study how the patch-burn grazing processes impact nectar production in native milkweeds in the Grand River Grasslands of Southern Iowa.  In particular, I am interested to see how nectar production varies among species, if nectar availability influences oviposition preference in monarch butterflies, and how climate change will impact future milkweed species distributions.  In general, I am interested in pollinator conservation, plant-insect interactions, restoration ecology, environmental education and outreach, and global change biology. 

Hilary Haley

Graduate Student I am a graduate student in the Debinski lab and am pursuing a M.S. degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.  In general, my interests include conservation biology, restoration ecology, botany, and native pollinator conservation.  To better understand the long term effects of habitat restoration on native pollinator populations, I’m currently studying the abundance and diversity of native bees found on prairie remnants and reconstruction plantings in the Grand River Grasslands.

David SteinDavid Stein

Graduate Student I am a graduate student in the Debinski and Pleasants labs, and I am pursuing an M.S. degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.  In general, I am interested in ecosystem ecology, insect ecology, pollinator conservation, and habitat restoration.  I plan on studying how land use and habitat type effect native bee abundance and nutrition on different grassland types in the Grand River Grasslands of Southern Iowa and Northern Missouri. 


Audrey McCombsAudrey McCombs

Graduate Student After two years studying and working with Dr. Debinski, I officially joined her lab in Fall 2015 as a PhD student in conservation biology. I conduct research on butterflies (Parnassius clodius) and their nectar sources in Grand Teton National Park, focusing on meadow resources for pollinators and how those resources might change with a changing climate.  Prior to joining the lab, I worked for ten years in natural resources management, including two years in northern Madagascar.  My research integrates ecological theory, empirical research, and the practical application of conservation ecology to management decisions.

Nick Lyon

Graduate Student I joined the Debinski lab in May of 2016 to pursue an M.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. My interests are broadly focused in restoration ecology and conservation biology, with a strong emphasis on communication and collaboration with non-scientist partners. My research focuses on developing adaptive management strategies for active Midwestern pastureland aimed at controlling invasive tall fescue while also increasing habitat suitability for native pollinator species. I am also using species distribution modeling techniques to model the potential for range shifts of key floral resource plant species under different climatic scenarios.

Past Members - Recent Years

Ray Moranz

Post-doctoral Research Associate

Studied ecology of grassland invertebrates in the Grand River Grasslands of southern Iowa and northern Missouri to obtain, analyze, and interpret data on the responses of invertebrates and floral resources to patch-burn grazing and other prairie management practices. Some of our research foci included: 1)  studying responses of butterfly populations to changes in nectar source availability, 2) evaluating the effects of environmental variables on butterfly communities and populations, and 3) comparing different sampling methods for assessing butterfly abundance.


Rhea (von Busse) Waldman

Post-doctoral Research Associate

Worked on bat flight for most of her scientific career and transitioned into research on butterfly flight while at ISU. She took complex situations and behaviors from the field and simulated them in a wind tunnel using simplified and controllable conditions. With this approach we studied butterfly behavior, kinematics, and aerodynamics in the context of habitat edge effects.

Kristin Kane

Post-doctoral Research Associate

Modelling effects of climate change on plant species distributions in the Grand River Grasslands of Iowa and Missouri. This work contributes to the North Central Climate Science Center University consortium and provides up to date climate science and tools to inform natural resource managers and stakeholders to set priorities for conservation action.

Karin (Grimlund) Jokela

Thesis Title: An examination of the complex ecological role of tall fescue in grassland restoration

John Delaney

Dissertation Title: Utilizing novel grasslands for the conservation and restoration of butterflies and other pollinators in agricultural ecosystems

Kim Szcodronski

Thesis Title: Assessing population status and identifying key habitat requirements for Parnassius butterflies in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Jill Sherwood

Thesis Title: Experimentally simulating environmental change in a montane meadow system via reduced snowpack and passive warming:  soil and plant responses


Brian F.M. Olechnowski

Dissertation Title: Determining the Critical Variables Controlling Avian Diversity, Community Composition, and Habitat Selection across Natural and Restored Temperate Ecosystems in North America.

Jennet Caruthers

Thesis Title: Montane Meadow Butterfly Community Dynamics along a hydrological gradient within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Jessica Orlofske

Thesis Title: Terrestrial Arthropod Indicators of Iowa Tall-grass Prairie

Sheri Svehla

Dissertation Title: Effects of Patch-Burn-Grazing Land Management Practice on the Tallgrass Prairie Insect Community with a Specific Focus on Ground Beetles (Coleoptera: Carabidae)

MJ Hatfield


My work as a prairie enthusiast/amateur ecologist turned student focuses on insects, their prairie host plants and life cycles. For some insects a specific host plant is required, for others any number of host plants will do. If you can identify the prairie plants then you already know the food and shelter of some prairie insects. An example of this is the sunflower tortoise beetle, Physonata helianthi, always associated with sunflowers, often associated with sawtooth sunflower, Helianthus grosseserratus. Anthropomorphically speaking the beetles are cute and the larvae are clever with their protective shield of excrement and shed skins situated on their urogomphi. Another example is the cloudless sulphur butterfly, Phoebis sennae, whose gorgeous larvae eat partridge pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata.

Jenny Hopwood


I sorted insects for the Iowa River Corridor and Patch-Burn Grazing projects in the Debinski lab, and also taught biology labs here at ISU. I am interested in pollinator biology, and particularly enjoy learning about bees.

Will Reed


I studied how songbirds and birds of prey assess habitat at the landscape scale using flyover data collected at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge.

I also studied how avian communities change on restored prairie through stages of restoration (with Brian Olechnowski)

Mike Rausch

Technician/Independent Study Student

I worked with Sheri Svehla sorting insect sweeps samples for the patch-burn grazing project in the Grand River Grassland of Iowa.

Rob Todd

Undergraduate Science With Practice (SWP) Student

Science With Practice Project:  I worked with the PBG team entering plant, insect, and bird data.  I focused on the interactions between different Coleopteran groups and the plant species Festuca Arundinacea (Tall Fescue).  Previously I have worked on sorting and entering data from the order Coleoptera.

Lisa Stream

Undergraduate Science With Practice (SWP) Student

Science with Practice project: Patch Burn Graze

I conducted research on the prairie insect responses to burning and grazing. I worked with Sheri Svehla sorting invertebrate samples collected in the summer field seasons. The 2007 Science with Practice project explored the statistical relationship between the richness of grazed versus ungrazed prairies. In 2008, the project explored the effect of burning on prairie species richness.

Laura Winkler


I recently completed an undergraduate degree in Entomology. I have been working as a technician identifying invertebrates from the Patch Burn Grazing study to examine insect responses to burning and grazing treatments. I am particularly interested in studying the ant responses.