I am an ecologist with research interests at the confluence of community ecology, landscape ecology, and ecological restoration.

I am currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California-Davis, where I am studying effects of fire severity on plant and lichen communities  in Hugh Safford’s lab. I completed my Ph.D. in Ellen Damschen’s lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in May 2016, where I studied drivers of community composition in glades (shallow soil grasslands) in the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri.

Before graduate school I worked for several years as a field botanist, surveying for rare plant surveys on federal land and conducting ecological studies for academic research labs. I have also taught botany and biology classes in several settings over the years, and I greatly enjoy leading field classes and helping people discover plants and lichens and the stories they tell.

I originally became interested in botany and ecology as an undergraduate when I took my first ethnobotany class at the Evergreen State College. I also studied sustainable agriculture at Evergreen and considered becoming a farmer for a time. Although it’s not my main professional livelihood these days, I remain interested in sustainable agriculture, medicinal plants and ecological landscaping and design.

My work benefits greatly from communication and collaboration with other researchers, land managers, field botanists and community members–I encourage you to contact me if we have similar interests!

You can find me on researchgate, google scholar, and twitter.

Contact: kawriver {at} gmail.com

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How can we maintain and restore biodiversity in a changing world? My research explores drivers of plant and lichen diversity at multiple scales in both natural and restored  systems.

I use botanical field studies across large geographic areas, often in combination with remote sensing techniques, to examine the relative influences of management practices, landscape context, disturbance, and the local environment on communities. My research is grounded in the natural history knowledge and experience I have gained over many years working as a field botanist and ecologist in several regions of North America.

Currently, I am working in collaboration with the USDA Forest Service’s Regional Ecology Program to analyze interactive effects of fire severity, historical disturbance regimes, and spatial disturbance heterogeneity on plant communities in the Sierra Nevada.

I envision my research program as part of a larger movement to broaden conservation management and restoration ecology into a predictive science, where tools are available to help managers use landscape context, site environment, and plant functional traits to guide practices.

Questions that guide my research past and present:

What is the relative importance of landscape and local factors for plant diversity?

Plant communities can be influenced by both the local environment and the surrounding landscape, but how does their relative importance vary? I have found that species with different life histories (i.e., habitat specialists vs. generalists) may respond to unique drivers. In Ozark grasslands, the richness of conservative, habitat specialist species is positively related to habitat patch size and connectivity, while the richness of generalist species richness is more strongly related to soil characteristics.

timepoint comparison
This comparison of an Ozark glade landscape in 1939 and 2014 shows that tree cover has increased dramatically.

How do plant and lichen functional traits respond to landscape context and management activities? Can functional differences between early successional species and late-successional species be used to inform management and restoration practices?

Plant functional traits can provide key information about how plants respond to the environment. I have tested whether functional traits explain plant community responses to habitat connectivity and the local environment in Ozark glades. I am also interested in functional differences between early and late successional plant species, which could have implications for ecological restoration. I am investigating how community assessment metrics used by restoration practitioners relate to plant functional traits, which are widely used by ecological researchers as a community assessment tool. Linking these frameworks can potentially strengthen connections between basic and applied ecology.

An old-growth soil crust lichen community in central Oregon
Paintbrush blooms in an Ozark dolomite glade community

What factors cause structural shifts in plant communities, such as woody encroachment in grasslands? How can we prevent shifts that threaten biodiversity and restore degraded habitats?

Woody vegetation is expanding into grassland and savanna habitats in many parts of the world, but the causes of encroachment are incompletely understood. Using historic aerial photos, I studied whether management efforts (prescribed fire and mechanical thinning) have been effective for maintaining historic open grassland habitats in the Missouri Ozarks. I found evidence that thresholds characterize encroachment patterns; encroachment may proceed more rapidly after reaching a critical level of woody cover.

Echinacea paradoxa, an Ozark glade endemic species, blooms in a dolomite glade

What factors shape the abundance, diversity and distributions of biological soil crust lichens?

Soil-dwelling lichens are an important component of biological soil crusts (the living, breathing skin of the earth), and contribute significantly to biodiversity in arid and semi-arid regions. These organisms play important ecological roles, such as preventing wind erosion and the invasion of exotic grasses. They have been little studied, in part because of their cryptic nature, and their distributions and environmental niches are often poorly understood. I have worked with researchers at Oregon State University and the Idaho Bureau of Land Management on studies of soil crust lichen communities in sagebrush country of central Oregon. I am also investigating relationships between soil crust cover, soil resource availability, and plant diversity in Ozark sandstone glades.

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Peer-reviewed publications:

Miller, J. E. D., A. Ives, and E. Damschen. 2017. Early- and late-flowering guilds respond differently to landscape spatial structure. Journal of Ecology, in press. Download PDF

Miller, J. E. D. and E. Damschen. 2017. Holding the line: Three decades of prescribed fires halt but do not reverse woody encroachment in naturally fragmented grasslands. Landscape Ecology 32(12): 2297-2310Download PDF

Miller, J. E. D.*, P. Hahn*, E. Damschen and J. Brennan**. 2017. Functional dependence underlies a positive plantconsumerrichness relationship. Basic and Applied Ecology 21: 94-100. (*First two authors contributed equally;  **Mentored undergraduate) Download PDF

Miller, J. E. D., J. Villella, G. Carey, T. Carlberg and H. Root. 2017. Canopy distribution and survey detectability of a rare old-growth forest lichen. Forest Ecology and Management 392: 195–201. Download PDF

Miller, J. E. D. and E. Damschen. 2017. Biological soil crust cover is negatively related to vascular plant richness in Ozark sandstone glades. Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 144(2):170-178. Download PDF

Grover, Shannon**, J. E. D. Miller, and E. Damschen. Indirect effects of landscape spatial structure and plant species richness on pollinator diversity in Ozark glades. Castanea, in press. (**Mentored undergraduate) Download PDF

Petersen, K., L. M. Calabria, J. E. D. Miller, J. Brown-Clay, L. Hynson, T. Steen, K. Johnston, A. Ulbrich, M. Miller and John Villella. 2017. Substrate age influences species richness and succession patterns of calicioid lichens and fungi. The Bryologist 120(1):19-24. Download PDF

Miller, Jesse E. D., Ellen I. Damschen, Susan P. Harrison, and James B. Grace. 2015. Landscape structure affects specialists but not generalists in naturally fragmented grasslands. Ecology 96:3323–3331. Download PDF

Miller, J.E.D., A. Rossman, R. Rosentreter, and J. Ponzetti. 2011. Lichen ecology and diversity of an Oregon sagebrush steppe: 1977 to the present. North American Fungi (6)2:1-15. Download PDF

Root, H.T., J.E.D. Miller, and B. McCune. 2011. Rarity and habitat associations of soil crust lichens. The Bryologist 114(4). Download PDF

Miller, J.E.D., B. McCune, D. Kofranek, J. Villella, R. Demmer, and K. Mergenthaller. 2011. Lichens from the South Slough and Horsfall Dunes on the Southern Oregon coast. Evansia 28(4). Download PDF

Miller, J.E.D. 2011. The Usnea rigida group in California and the Pacific Northwest. Bulletin of the California Lichen Society 18(1&2):3-5. Download PDF

Villella, J., S. Benson, T. Carlberg, J. Miller, R. Patton, and E. Peterson. 2010. The Lichens of the Horseshoe Ranch Wildlife Area. Bulletin of the California Lichen Society 17(1&2):9-12. Download PDF

updated 12/2017

Please see my CV for publications in preparation and review.

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Teaching and outreach

Students in my field botany class with western peony


I enjoy teaching a range of topics related to ecology, botany and science communication. As an educator, I strive to help all my students think critically, solve problems, and communicate effectively with diverse groups.

I help students develop as independent scientists by emphasizing skills for scientific inference, particularly study design and analysis methods. I also encourage students of ecology to gain inspiration and ideas by spending time observing the natural world.

Looking closely at sepals at a neighborhood plant identification workshop at the Lawrence Community Orchard

Taking students in the field is one of my favorite parts of teaching, and I love the unique opportunities for learning that occur hiking along a trail, where examples of connections between plant communities and landscape context are in panoramic abundance.

For more information on my teaching experience, please see my CV.


I believe that connecting and communicating with diverse groups outside of academia is a key part of being a scientist. To this end, I build relationships with land managers, members of the conservation community, and the general public through collaborative projects, outreach events, and citizen science projects.

I particularly enjoy leading plant identification workshops for people of all experience levels. Please contact me if you’re interested in having me speak or lead a workshop at an event.

Presenting my research results to land managers at the Missouri Department of Conservation
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I regularly collaborate with students on research projects related to plant community ecology, landscape ecology, and plant life history characteristics. I greatly enjoy mentoring, and usually work with one or two students each term.

If you’re interested in working with me on a mentored research project please contact me! I’m especially interested in working with motivated, creative students who are considering careers related to ecology, botany, conservation, etc.

Please see my CV for a list of projects previous students have worked on.

IMG_1459 - Version 2
Damschen lab undergrads and grad students, Spring 2015
Sara (with her wizened mentor) presenting her glade community research at the end-of-semester poster session!
Brandon databases Ozark plants for donation to the Wisconsin Herbarium
Anisa hard at work on cutting-edge GIS analyses
John sorts grasshopper collections.
Shannon checks out Penstemon flowers on a fieldwork trip in the Ozarks
Damschen-Orrock undergrads Savannah, Mitul and John with Jesse and Phil, fall 2013