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Greg Tooley
Graduate Student
Kansas State University
Department of Biology

Posted 6-17-22

Twitter: @ecophysgreg (Twitter)

Greg Tooley


I am interested in the ecophysiology of woody plants that encroach grasslands. My research focuses on the mechanisms that enable dogwood (Cornus drummondii) to encroach the Kansas tallgrass prairie. Because dogwood is the predominant woody encroaching shrub, people typically view it negatively. However, if you put this fact aside, it’s an amazing plant. Dogwood is a short shrub, forming dense clonal stands termed “islands.” Each island is a single organism sharing an interconnected root system. The canopies of dogwood islands contain greater areas of leaves per ground area than most temperate deciduous forests, despite their short stature. As a result, vegetation is absent below its canopies, allowing dogwood islands to escape grassland fires. For most plants, having canopies with leaf area values similar to dogwood is problematic due to the limitations of self-shading. To better understand how dogwood overcomes this problem, my research investigates the vertical distribution of leaf traits in dogwood canopies to give a better understanding of the mechanisms that enable dogwood to maximize photosynthetic rates across highly varied light conditions. For my second research project, I am excavating intact root systems of dogwood and then using a 3D handheld scanner to create root system architecture models to evaluate the impact of aboveground disturbance on these belowground structures.


Image from Greg Tooley


How Greg got interested in the botanical sciences:
Even though I grew up in the Kansas Flint Hills countryside and loved spending time in this environment, it wasn’t until taking an undergraduate botany course at Fort Hays State University that I became particularly interested in plants. My botany professor’s passion molded my love for plant science and inspired me to pursue a career in plant ecophysiology. For my master’s degree, I was fortunate enough to return to the Flint Hills tallgrass prairie and pursue my research interests in Dr. Jesse Nippert’s lab at Kansas State University. My time at K State has increased my interest in studying grassland ecosystems.


Image from Greg Tooley

Greg's advice for those just starting their botanical journey:
Most importantly, have fun and spend time exploring your interests within and outside your field. Secondly, don't be scared to ask questions to professors and graduate students. They were once in your shoes and can have very good advice.


Other Passions:
Recently, I have become obsessed with a board game called Settlers of Catan. I enjoy drinking coffee with my significant other, lifting and sports, being in nature, and cooking.

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