Welcome to the Drenovsky Lab website

Rebecca E. Drenovsky, Associate Professor of Plant Biology
Department of Biology
John Carroll University
University Heights, OH 44118
Below you will find descriptions of ongoing research projects with students and collaborators at John Carroll University, the University of California-Davis, and the USDA-ARS.

I will be accepting 1-2 graduate students into my research laboratory for Fall 2015. If you are interested in plant ecology and/or plant physiology, you find the projects described below intriguing, and you're interested in pursuing a Masters in Biology, please contact me.

I also enjoy working with undergraduate students interested in ecology and botany. Please stop by my office to talk to me about research at John Carroll!

Research Projects

One of my major research interests is plant nutrient resorption and storage, and I seek to understand how these physiological functions influence community and ecosystem processes (both nutrient limitation and soil nutrient cycling). Nutrient resorption and storage in perennial species conserves plant nutrient pools, decreasing plant reliance on current external nutrient supply and buffering the impact of annual variation in nutrient availability. At the whole-plant level, more complete nutrient resorption can increase plant fitness, a major driver of population dynamics. In contrast, complete resorption can negatively impact ecosystem-level processes. Since more complete resorption leads to nutrient-poor litter, decomposition processes are slowed, influencing site fertility and ultimately plant community composition. Despite the major role nutrient resorption and storage may play in population, community, and ecosystem level processes, there are significant gaps in our knowledge:

What is the relative importance of environment versus phylogeny on nutrient resorption?

Do differential nutrient recycling and storage patterns exist between species in a community, and if so, does this create nutrient niches allowing for species co-existence?

Does greater nutrient resorption and storage confer a competitive advantage to more stress tolerant species during succession?

How do species differences in plant nutrient recycling and storage influence soil nutrient cycling in ecosystems?

How does environmental variation influence realized resorption?

Comparing species from high and low nutrient sites and different successional states, my research program seeks to address these questions, using manipulative experimental studies. My ultimate goal is to gain a better understanding of how environmental variation, storage, and recycling drives community and ecosystem processes. This research is highly relevant given current pressures on native environments. By understanding plant physiological responses to these changes, we can better predict feedbacks on community dynamics and ecosystem processes.

This work is in collaboration with researchers at UC Davis, the UC McLaughlin Reserve, the UC Sierra Foothills Research and Extension Center, and undergraduate and graduate students at JCU. Field research is being conducted in the California Coast Range, Great Basin Desert, and Mojave Desert.

Functional traits related to invasive species success

Exotic plant invasions pose a serious global ecological and conservation threat to native plant communities and can induce serious economic costs. Given their potential negative impacts, it is of interest to ecologists and invasion biologists to understand which traits makes some species more invasive than others. We know that some non-native species, following their arrival to a new area, simply naturalize and become part of the resident plant community. In contrast, other species experience rapid range expansion and are considered invasive. Determining which traits contribute most strongly to non-native organisms’ competitive ability is an essential first step in improving prediction and management of invasive species spread.

Previous research has focused on species diversity or functional group diversity as a mechanism of invasion resistance. However, coarse functional or taxonomic groupings may not capture traits enabling invasives to outperform natives. Our research focuses on key morphological and physiological functional traits involved in resource acquisition and use, particularly in resource poor environments.

This research is being conducted in collaboration with researchers at the UC Sierra Foothills Research and Extension Center, the Exotic and Invasive Weeds Research Unit, and undergraduate and graduate researchers at John Carroll.

Mineral nutrition of plants growing on unique soil types

Unique soils, such as serpentine or gypsum, are hotspots of biological diversity. As such, they are excellent locations for asking questions related to adaptation and acclimation, as well as being areas of conservation concern. In addition to projects related to nutrient resorption and storage at the UC McLaughlin Reserve, the Drenovsky lab is investigating questions related to seed and seedling ecology of serpentine and non-serpentine shrubs, as well as plant-soil relations on gypsum outcrops in the Chihuahuan Desert.

This work is being conducted in collaboration with researchers at the UC McLaughlin Reserve and Dr. Mike Moore of Oberlin College.


Jeremy James--UC Sierra Foothills Research and Extension Center

Cathy Koehler--UC McLaughlin Reserve

Jim Richards--UC Davis

Brenda Grewell--USDA/ARS, Exotic and Invasive Weeds Research Unit

Mike Moore--Oberlin College

Current Drenovsky Lab Members

Maria Iannucci (graduate student): Ploidy, nutrient availability, and invasiveness in Ludwigia species

Clare Muller (undergraduate student): Mineral nutrition of gypsophilic species of New Mexico (honors thesis)

Kati McClain (undergraduate student): Seed biology of chaparral shrubs

Shannon Pavsek (undergraduate student): Mineral nutrition of gypsophilic species of New Mexico

Former Drenovsky Lab Members

Jeff Walker (M.S., Biology): Thesis title: Effects of nutrient stress and competition on whole-plant nitrogen budgets in the perennial grasses Pseudoroegneria spicata and Agropyron desertorum. Currently, Jeff is working at BSA Environmental Services.

Danny Dlugos (M.S., Biology): Thesis title: Physiological and morphological responses to reductions in light quantity and quality in the invasive plant, Multiflora rose (
Rosa multiflora Thunb., Rosaceae). Currently, Danny is pursuing a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology at Michigan State University in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences.

Lindsay Bernhard (undergraduate student): Seed biology of chaparral shrubs.

Jennifer Murphy (M.S., Biology): Thesis title: Functional traits and their plasticity in invasive and non-invasive Rosa spp. in response to light availability. Currently, Jennifer is pursuing her Ph.D. in Biology at Case Western Reserve University in the lab of Dr. Jean Burns.

Esther D'Mello (undergraduate): Honors Thesis title: Light responses and leaf nitrogen of invasive and non-invasive Rosa spp. Currently, Esther is pursuing a Master's degree in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Michigan in the lab of Dr. Ines Ibanez.

Megan Thornhill (undergraduate): Nutrient resorption in the invasive cordgrass, Spartina densiflora and Leaf nutrient responses in nutrient amended bunchgrasses of the Intermountain West. Megan graduated as a Woodrow Wilson Ohio Teaching Fellow from Ohio University and is now a high school biology teacher.

Will Murray (undergraduate): Soil properties of the Clark Mountain range, Mojave National Preserve. Currently, Will is working at BSA Environmental Services.

Matthew Mayher (undergraduate): Herbarium organizer extraordinaire. Matthew is pursuing a Master's degree in Biology from the University of Toledo in the lab of Dr. Daryl Dwyer, working on riparian and wetland restoration.

Rachael Glover (M.S., Biology): Thesis title: Clonal integration in Ludwigia hexapetala under different light regimes. Currently, Rachael is the Restoration Ecology Program Coordinator at The Wilds.

Albina Khasanova (M.S., Biology): Thesis title: Impacts of drought on physiology and growth in grasses of the Intermountain West. Currently, Albina is pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Texas, Austin in the Juenger lab.

Jill Collins (M.S., Biology): Thesis title: Light relations and early life history traits of a problematic invasive, Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora Thunb.) (Rosaceae). Currently, Jill is working with the Cleveland Metroparks as a naturalist.

Katie Skelly (B.S. Biology): Soil characteristics of serpentine and non-serpentine chaparral soils. Katie earned a M.Ed. at Edinboro University, and she is currently a high school science teacher in the Lorain Schools.

Elise Wygant (B.S. Biology, Environmental Science): Nutrient resorption in desert shrubs; functional traits related to invasiveness in the genus, Rosa. Currently, Elise is a M.S. student in Plant Biology at the University of Georgia, working in Dr. Lisa Donovan's lab.

Jesús Sánchez (M.S., Biology): Thesis title: Physiological and growth responses of three Asclepias congeners to low soil water availability; Currently, Jesús is the Director of Programs at Esperanza, an organization promoting Hispanic education.

Nicole Pietrasiak (M.S., Biology): Thesis title: Environmental factors influencing distribution of microbiotic crusts in Joshua Tree National Park; Nicole earned a Ph.D. in Soil Science at the University of California, Riverside. Currently, Nicole is a post-doctoral researcher in Dr. Jeff Johansen's lab at JCU.

Stephanie Mudery (undergraduate student): Nutrient resorption in desert shrubs; Stephanie earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at Walsh University, and she is currently working as a physical therapist.

Alynn Martin (undergraduate student): Huntington-Codrington undergraduate research fellow Summer 2008; Potential ecotypic variation in the genus Sarcobatus. Alynn obtained a Master's degree at Grand Valley State University in the lab of Dr. Amy Russell and is now pursuing a PhD in disease ecology from the University of Tasmania in the lab of Dr. Scott Carver.

Molly Falasco (undergraduate student): Huntington-Codrington undergraduate research fellow Summer 2007 (Nutrient resorption in California chaparral shrubs); research volunteer Summer 2006; Resource use and acquisition traits in native and invasive perennial forbs; Molly earned a M.D. at the University of Toledo. She is currently a Pediatric Resident Physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Christina Martin (undergraduate student): Huntington-Codrington undergraduate research fellow Summer 2006; Resource use and acquisition traits in native and invasive perennial forbs; Christina earned a M.D. at the Ohio State University. Currently, Christina is a Resident Physician at William Beaumont Hospital.


R. Glover, R.E. Drenovsky, C.J. Futrell, and B.J. Grewell. 2015. Clonal integration in Ludwigia hexapetala under different light regimes. Aquatic Botany, In press.

N. Pietrasiak, R.E. Drenovsky, L.S. Santiago, R.C. Graham. 2014. Biogeomorphology of a Mojave Desert landscape – configurations and feedbacks of abiotic and biotic land surfaces during landform evolution. Geomorphology 206:23-36.

A. Khasanova, J.J. James, R.E. Drenovsky. 2013. Drought impacts plant water relations and nitrogen nutrition in aridland perennial grasses. Plant and Soil. 372:541-552.

R.E. Drenovsky, C.E. Koehler, K. Skelly, J.H. Richards. 2013. Potential and realized nutrient resorption in serpentine and non-serpentine chaparral shrubs and trees. Oecologia 171: 39-50.

R.E. Drenovsky*, B.J. Grewell*, C.M. D'Antonio, J.L. Funk, J.J. James, N. Molinari, I.M. Parker, C.L. Richards. 2012. A functional trait perspective on plant invasions. Annals of Botany. 110:141-153 (invited review)
*first two authors contributed equally to this work

R.E. Drenovsky, A. Khasanova, J.J. James. 2012. Trait convergence and plasticity among native and invasive species in resource poor environments. American Journal of Botany. 99:629-639.

C. Kueffer, Ü. Niinemets, R.E. Drenovsky, J. Kattge, P. Milberg, H. Poorter, P.B. Reich, C. Werner, M. Westoby, I.J. Wright. 2011. Fame, glory and neglect in meta-analyses. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 26:494-494.

R.E. Drenovsky, A.M. Martin, M.R. Falasco, J.H. Richards. 2011. Comparative ecology of Sarcobatus baileyi and S.vermiculatus in eastern California. Western North American Naturalist. 71:234-239.

N. Pietrasiak, J.R. Johansen, R.E. Drenovsky. 2011. Geologic composition influences distribution of microbiotic crusts in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts at the regional scale. Soil Biology & Biochemistry. In press.

J.J. James, R.E. Drenovsky, M.J. Rinella, T.A. Monaco. 2011. Managing soil nitrogen to restore annual grass infested plant communities: An effective strategy or incomplete framework? Ecological Applications. In press.

R.E. Drenovsky, J.J. James, J.H. Richards. 2010. Variation in nutrient resorption by desert shrubs. Journal of Arid Environments.74:1564-1568. DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaridenv.2010.05.030

R.E. Drenovsky, K.L. Steenwerth, L.E. Jackson, and K.M. Scow. 2010. Land use and climatic factors structure regional patterns in soil microbial communities. Global Ecology and Biogeography 19:27-39.

R.E. Drenovsky, J.J. James. 2010. Designing invasion resistant plant communities: The role of plant functional traits. Rangelands 32:32-37. (invited review)

J.J. Pan, B. Widner, D. Ammerman, R.E. Drenovsky. 2010. Plant community and tissue chemistry responses to fertilizer and litter nutrient manipulations in a temperate grassland. Plant Ecology 206:139-150.

J.M. Holloway, M.B. Goldhaber, K.M. Scow, and R.E. Drenovsky. 2009. Spatial and seasonal variations in mercury methylation and microbial community structure in an historic mercury mining area, Yolo County, California. Chemical Geology 267:85-95.

M.A. Christman, J.J. James, R.E. Drenovsky, and J.H. Richards. 2009. Environmental stress and genetics influence nighttime leaf conductance in the C4 grass Distichlis spicata. Functional Plant Biology. 36:50-55.

Z.T. Aanderud, M.I. Shuldman, R.E. Drenovsky, and J.H. Richards. 2008. Shrub-interspace dynamics alter relationships between microbial community composition and belowground ecosystem characteristics. Soil Biology & Biochemistry. 40:2206-2216.

R.E. Drenovsky, K.P. Feris, K.M. Batten, K.R. Hristova. 2008.New and current microbiological tools for ecosystem ecologists: towards a goal of linking structure and function. American Midland Naturalist. 160:140-159.

K.L. Steenwerth, R.E. Drenovsky, J.J. Lambert, D.A. Kluepfel, K.M. Scow, D.R. Smart. 2008. Soil morphology, depth, and grapevine root frequency influence microbial communities in a Pinot noir Vineyard. Soil Biology & Biochemistry. 40:1330-1340.

R.E. Drenovsky, C.E. Martin, M.R. Falasco, J.J. James. 2008. Variation in resource use and acquisition traits between native and invasive perennial forbs. American Journal of Botany. 95:681-687.

J.J. James, R.E. Drenovsky. 2007. A basis for relative growth rate differences between native and invasive forb seedlings. Rangeland Ecology and Management 60:395-400.

R.E. Drenovsky, K.M. Batten. 2007. Invasion by Aegilops triuncialis(barb goatgrass) slows carbon and nutrient cycling in a serpentine grassland. Biological Invasions 9: 107-116.

J.J. James, M.A. Caird, R.E. Drenovsky, R.L. Sheley. 2006. Influence of resource pulses and perennial neighbors on the establishment of an invasive annual grass in the Mojave Desert. Journal of Arid Environments. 67:528-534.

M. Pothoff, K.L Steenwerth, L.E. Jackson, R.E. Drenovsky, K.M. Scow, R.G. Jorgensen. 2005. Soil microbial community composition as affected by restoration practices in California grassland. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 38:1851-1860.

R.E. Drenovsky, J.H. Richards. 2005. Low N and P resorption correlates with nutrient limitation in two desert shrubs. Plant Ecology. 183:305-314.

R.E. Drenovsky, R.A. Duncan, K.M. Scow. 2005. Soil sterilization treatments and organic carbon amendments, but not microbial inoculants, change microbial community composition in replanted peach orchards. California Agriculture. 59:176-181.

R.E. Drenovsky, J.H. Richards. 2005. Nitrogen addition increases fecundity in the desert shrub,Sarcobatus vermiculatus. Oecologia. 143:349-356.

C.A. Ingels, K.M. Scow, D.A. Whisson, R.E. Drenovsky. 2005. Effects of cover crops on grapevines, yield, juice quality, soil microbial ecology, and gopher activity. American Journal of Enology and Viticulture. 56:19-29.

R.E. Drenovsky, M.P. Edwards, L.A. Gardner, K.M. Scow, A.L. Maroney, L.K. Loveless. 2005. Comparison of soil microbial communities in Pinot Noir vineyards in Anderson, Carneros, and Russian River Appellations. Proceedings of the Soil Environment and Vine Mineral Nutrition Symposium (Eds. L.P. Christensen, D.R. Smart), p. 39-47.

R.E. Drenovsky, D. Vo, K.J. Graham, K.M. Scow. 2004. Soil water content and organic carbon availability are major determinants of soil microbial community composition. Microbial Ecology. 48:424-430.

R.E. Drenovsky, G.N. Elliott, K.J. Graham, K.M. Scow. 2004. Comparison of phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) and total soil fatty acid methyl esters (TSFAME) for characterizing soil microbial communities. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 36:1793-1800.

R.E. Drenovsky, J.H. Richards. 2004. Critical N:P values: Predicting nutrient deficiencies in desert shrublands. Plant and Soil 259:59-69. (cover article)

R.E. Drenovsky, J.H. Richards. 2003. High N availability does not increase salinity tolerance inSarcobatus vermiculatus. Western North American Naturalist 63:472-478.


BL 156 Principles of Biology II
BL 159/160 Principles of Biology III
BL 420 Plant Physiology
BL 435/535 Plant Ecology
BL 454/554 Desert Biology
BL 454L/554L Desert Field Biology
BL 560 Experimental Design & Analysis
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