People

  • Heather Alexander

    Heather Alexander

    Dr. Heather D. Alexander is a forest ecologist in the Department of Forestry at Mississippi State University. Her research focuses on understanding ecosystem vulnerability in the face of climate change and altered disturbance regimes.

    Dr. Alexander’s research program uses field-based experimental manipulations of environmental conditions to test hypothesis about the implications of changing forest communities on ecosystem function, especially carbon cycling.

    Her research includes the effects of wildfire severity on forest structure and carbon dynamics in the Siberian Arctic, the implications of fire suppression and ‘mesophication’ on oak forests of the eastern U.S., impacts of shrub encroachment into grasslands, and the interaction of abiotic and biotic stressors on restoration success in semi-arid thornscrub forests.

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    Email: heather.alexander@msstate.edu

  • Rachel Arney

    Rachel Arney

    Rachel is a Research Associate in the Department of Forestry at Mississippi State University. She is working on a joint project between MSU and the US Fish and Wildlife Service writing a national monitoring protocol for forested lands in the southeast United States.

    Rachel received her bachelor’s degree from The University of Arizona in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and her master’s degree from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Biology.

    As a graduate student, she created artificial coral structures to act as juvenile fish sampling devices and used SCUBA to collect data. She is a trained marine ecologist who has worked primarily with sea turtles in the Caribbean and South Texas.

    Email: rachel.arney@msstate.edu

  • Emily Babl

    Emily Babl

    Emily is a master’s student at Mississippi State University in the Department of Forestry under Dr. Heather Alexander. She received her bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University in natural resource and ecology management with a focus in wildlife management.

    Her undergraduate research involved longleaf pine savanna restoration and studied the effects of salinity levels on gulf killfish fecundity. Currently, she is studying species-specific mechanisms used in the process of mesophication. We are seeing an increase in the regeneration of mesophytes (species such as red maple and sugar maple that make conditions in their understory more moist and cool) due to fire suppression in upland oak forests.

    Emily is quantifying tree, understory, and leaf litter characteristics of upland oaks and mesophytes to try and observe mechanisms that are potentially driving this mesophication process. Her research is important, as the forests we know today are likely to function differently in the absence of upland oaks, impacting wildlife and human interests.

    Email: ekb214@msstate.edu

  • Brian Izbicki

    Brian Izbicki

    Brian received his undergraduate degree from the University of Montana in 2009 and worked for the Fire Science Laboratory in Missoula, Montana.

    His master’s thesis research is concentrated on the central hardwood region of upland forests in the southeastern United States. He is investigating the compositional shift from oak forests to more shade-tolerant fire-sensitive species likely caused by fire suppression. Brian is interested in how upland oak tree regeneration is impacted by prescribed fire and canopy gap disturbances.

    In his first year at Mississippi State, Brian presented scientific posters at the Southern Harwood Forest Research Group conference and at the Association of Southeastern Biologists conference.

    Email: bji22@msstate.edu

  • Homero Pena Bio

    Homero Pena

    Homero received his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and is currently a master’s student in Dr.

    Heather Alexander’s forest and fire ecology lab at Mississippi State University. His research is based in far Northeastern Siberia, Russia where fire frequency and severity are on the rise due to climate warming.

    The focus of his research is to determine how understory vegetation communities change across a stand density gradient in Siberian larch boreal forests recovered from fire. Understory composition is important, as it can impact future permafrost (frozen soil) integrity in the arctic, which holds one of the largest terrestrial pools of organic carbon on Earth.

    Email: hp573@msstate.edu

  • Jennifer McDaniel

    Jennifer McDaniel

    Jennifer is a native of Waynesboro, Georgia and earned a Bachelor of Science in Forest Resources from the University of Georgia. She is currently working towards a MS in Forestry.

    Her research is focused on upland oak and mesophyte response to prescribed fire. Broad interests and future goals include ensuring research is effectively shared with landowners and promoting strong relationships between universities, agencies, and the public. Expected graduation Summer 2019.

    Email: jkm339@msstate.edu

  • Shawn Woodard

    Shawn Woodard

    Shawn is a M.S. student whose thesis project is based at Spirit Hill Farm in northern Mississippi. His research aims to determine fuel bed characteristics, such as bulk density, packing ratio, and loads, in response to burn seasons and deer herbivory.

    He will also assess whether prescribed fire shifts leaf litter composition towards more flammable or mesophytic species. Expected graduation Summer 2019.

    Email: sw2274@msstate.edu

Past Students

Eric Verderber

Eric Verderber-graduated 2015

“I am currently a Wildlife Refuge Specialist for the South Texas Refuge Complex. I work in the habitat restoration program and am in charge of field operations, planting site preparation, and post-planting management.”


Jennifer Vela

Jennifer Vela-graduated 2015

“I teach AP Environmental Science and AP Biology at Harlingen High School South in Texas. I teach high school students who will challenge the respective National Advanced Placement Exams at the end of the year to receive college credit.”


Krysten Dick

Krysten Dick-graduated 2015

“While a master’s student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, I discovered I wanted to be a wildland firefighter and traveled throughout the United States working on an engine crew post-graduation. I am currently the Assistant Property Manager of Crosley Fish and Wildlife Area in southern Indiana. The property is about 4,000 acres of river and bottomland hardwoods. My thesis work made it possible for me to get this awesome job!”
krystendick55@gmail.com


Aaron White

Aaron White-graduated 2015

“My Master's Degree focused on plant and animal interactions in a boreal forest ecosystem in far northeastern Russia. My thesis contained two parts. The first focused on animal use in larch stands of varying age and densities. The second investigated an animal disturbance on the soil organic layer and the resulting effects on underlying soil conditions. I am currently a student at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul Minnesota, where I am seeking a JD focused on Environmental Law.”
apwhite881@gmail.com


Alison Shepherd

Alison Shepherd-graduated 2016

“I am currently a Conservation Officer in NJ (game warden) and in the police academy. I will be on the marine unit when I finish, working in Delaware Bay and the Atlantic. We do both state and federal work, so there will be a lot of commercial and offshore work as well as the regular state regulation.”
alison.shepherd@dep.nj.gov


Parker Watson

Parker Watson-graduated 2016

“I am currently a Silvicultural and Urban Forestry Tech with the Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands in Anchorage, Alaska. My duties will be split between manual chainsaw labor, data collection, GIS analysis, and writing.”
parkeralexwatson@gmail.com


Soraya Delgado

Soraya Delgado- graduated 2016

“I am a Conservation Biologist and Environmental Educator, native of the coastal region of Ecuador and received a Master’s in Biology from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Texas. I currently work as a Research Assistant at UTRGV and am a board member for a small NGO in South America called Great Wilderness.”
soraya@greatwilderness.org