Helen Miller Alexander

Helen Alexander
  • Professor
  • Natural Sciences and Mathematics
  • Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Contact Info

Office Phone:
Department Phone:
Haworth Hall, room #7006
University of Kansas
1200 Sunnyside Avenue
Lawrence, KS 66045-7534


Dr. Helen Alexander studies the ecology and evolution of plant-pathogen interactions; hybridization between crop and wild plants; and long-term demography of rare prairie plants.


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


Teaching interests:

  • Conservation Biology
  • Introduction to Biostatistics
  • Research Methods
  • Kansas Plants and Landscapes

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.