MSU Plant Biology Department

Carolyn M. Malmstrom

Associate Professor

Ph.D., Stanford University

A.B., Harvard University

Department of Plant Biology
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1312 USA
Phone: (517) 355-4690
Fax: (517) 353-1926

Malmstrom Lab Home Page

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Selected Recent PublicationsMalmstrom Lab People



In the Malmstrom Ecology Lab, we conduct fundamental research in plant, virus, and landscape ecology to help society address important environmental issues. We are particularly interested in developing basic science understanding that can inform conservation and  restoration in "working" landscapes that simultaneously produce economic value, provide ecosystem services, and harbor wild species. Examining opportunities for synergy between production and conservation is important because the vast majority of Earth's terrestrial landscapes are now working landscapes.

To support native biota and concurrently meet production goals in working landscapes requires understanding of biological mechanisms and interactions at multiple scales. In our studies, we thus combine genomics and ecophysiology with geospatial analysis and ecology. We work in both the lab and the field, and take "molecular" or "ecological" approaches as best suits the question.

To develop fundamental understanding of biotic interactions in human-influenced landscapes, we explore questions such as,

  • How do anthropogenic selection pressures alter the stress tolerance of wild plants and their interactions with microbes, such as viruses?
  • In what ways do biotic interactions influence plant community dynamics and patch structure?
  • How do environmental and management factors interact to determine patch dynamics within landscapes?
  • In what ways do the structure and composition of landscapes influence the ecology and evolution of organisms as they move among different patches?

One interesting landscape type in which to consider these questions are grasslands, which bear the brunt of feeding humanity worldwide. FAO statistics indicate that 2/3 of the calories humanity consumes come either directly from grasses such as rice, wheat, and maize or indirectly from animals that themselves feed on grasses. In North America, as in much of the rest of the world, natural grassland ecosystems have been largely transformed by humans into commodity-producing landscapes. In the western USA, for example, semi-arid grasslands are important rangelands that support cattle and sheep alongside valued native fauna and flora.  Likewise, in the temperate-climate midwest, native prairies have been largely supplanted by fields of annual commodity crops, particularly maize, soybeans, and wheat. The native prairies that remain are typically small and surrounded by agricultural landscapes. Because of these vegetation characteristics  and their dual importance for food production and conservation, grasslands offer intriquing research opportunities.

Current Projects

  • Assessing temporal change in grassland communities with microdrones

  • Influence of disturbance regimes on invasive species dynamics in semi-arid grasslands

Background: Audubon-California Landowner Stewardship Program

Background: CALFED Science in Action: Bringing Back Native Grasses

  • Influence of anthropogenic changes in vegetation properties on the dynamics of plant viruses and their vectors across multiple scales
  • Butterfly dynamics and restoration in working landscapes
  • The ecology and evolution of grass-infecting viruses
  • Plant Virus Ecology Network (PVEN) 


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In the fall, I teach PLB 441 Plant Ecology.  This advanced-level course offers an opportunity to investigate how plants interact with their environments and to develop deeper understanding of the principles, practice and application of ecological science. The course examines the nature of ecological interactions and how these interactions shape plant species and communities around the globe and across geologic time. In parallel, the course considers how plants in turn influence the ecology and evolution of other species and the functioning of ecological processes, including Earth's climate system. The course is taught with a subject-centered focus in which students actively engage with material.

During the school year and in the summer, my lab also offers focused training in research to  a small number of selected undergraduates. Strong candidates are highly motivated and interested in research, demonstrate good work ethic and responsibility, and like to work both independently and as part of a team. It is our experience that students who start in a lab as a sophomore enjoy the most research success, but we will consider students in other classes depending on circumstances.

For Fall 2015, there is an opening for one new PhD student. We are seeking a dynamic individual interested in high quality research.

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Selected Publications

Dale, B. E., J. E. Anderson, R. C. Brown, S. Csonka, V. H. Dale, G. Herwick, R. D. Jackson, N. Jordan, S. Kaffka, K. L. Kline, L. R. Lynd, C. M. Malmstrom, R. Garlock Ong, T. L. Richard, C. Taylor, and M. Q. Wang (2014). Take a closer look: Biofuels can support environmental, economic and social goals, Environmental Science & Technology 48 (13): 7200–7203

Werling, B. P., T. L. Dickson, R. Isaacs, H. Gaines, C. Gratton, K. L. Gross, H. Liere, C. M. Malmstrom, T. D. Meehan, L. Ruan, B. A. Robertson, G. P. Robertson, T. M. Schmidt, A. C. Schrotenboer, T. K. Teal, J. K. Wilson, D. A. Landis (2014). Perennial grasslands increase biodiversity and multiple ecosystem services in bioenergy landscapes. PNAS 111 (4): 1652-1657

Alexander, H.M.,  K. E. Mauck, A.E. Whitfield, K. A. Garrett, and C. M. Malmstrom (2014). Plant-virus interactions and the agro-ecological interface. European Journal of Plant Pathology  138:529-547. 10.1007/s10658-013-0317-1, published online 23 November 2013.


Malmstrom, C. M., U. Melcher, and N. Bosque-Pérez (2011). The expanding field of plant virus ecology: Historical foundations, knowledge gaps, and research directions. Virus Research 159(2):84-94, doi:10.1016/j.virusres.2011.05.010

Schrotenboer, A. C., M. S. Allen, and C. M. Malmstrom (2011).  Modification of  native grasses for biofuel production may increase virus susceptibility. Global Change Biology Bioenergy 3(5): 360–374, doi: 10.1111/j.1757-1707.2011.01093.x

Malmstrom, C. M. (2010) Ecologists study the interactions of organisms and their environment.  Nature Education Knowledge 1(8):9

Butterfield, H. S. and C. M. Malmstrom (2009). The effects of phenology on indirect measures of aboveground biomass in annual grasses.  International Journal of Remote Sensing 30(12): 3133–3146

Malmstrom, C. M.,  H. S. Butterfield, C. Barber, B. Dieter, R. Harrison, J. Qi, D. Riaño, A. Schrotenboer, S. Stone, C. J. Stoner, J. Wirka (2009).  Using remote sensing to evaluate the influence of grassland restoration activities on ecosystem forage provisioning services.   Restoration Ecology 17(4): 526-538.

Malmstrom, C.M., R. Shu, E. W. Linton, L. A. Newton, and M. A. Cook (2007).  Barley yellow dwarf viruses (BYDVs) preserved in herbarium specimens illuminate historical disease ecology of invasive and native grasses.  Journal of Ecology 95:1153-1166 (Editor’s Choice).  Described as “Grass attack” in Nature Research Highlights (2007) 449:759.

Butterfield, H. S., and C. M. Malmstrom (2006) Experimental use of remote-sensing by private range managers and its influence on management decisions.   Rangeland Ecology and Management. 59:541-548

Malmstrom, C. M., C. J. Stoner, S. Brandenburg, and L. A. Newton (2006). Virus infection and grazing exert counteracting influences on survivorship of native bunchgrass seedlings competing with invasive exotics.   Journal of Ecology 94:264—275.

Malmstrom, C. M., C. C. Hughes, L. A. Newton, and C. J. Stoner (2005).  Virus infection in remnant native bunchgrasses from invaded California grasslands.  New Phytologist 168:217–230.

Malmstrom, C. M., A. J. McCullough, H. A. Johnson, L. A. Newton, E. T. Borer (2005).  Invasive annual grasses indirectly increase virus incidence in California native perennial bunchgrasses.  Oecologia 145:153–164.

Malmstrom, C. M. and R. Shu (2004).  Multiplexed RT-PCR for streamlined detection and separation of barley and cereal yellow dwarf viruses.   Journal of Virological Methods 120, 69–78.


Malmstrom, C. M. and K.F. Raffa (2000).  Biotic disturbance agents in the boreal forest:  considerations for vegetation change models.  Global Change Biology 6(s1): 35–48.

D’Arrigo, R. D., C. M. Malmstrom, G. Jacoby, S. O. Los, and D. C. Bunker (2000).   Correlation between maximum latewood density of annual tree rings and NDVI-based estimates of forest productivity. International Journal of Remote Sensing 21(11): 2329–2336.

Los, S. O., J. G. Collatz, P. J. Sellers, C. M. Malmstrom, N. H. Pollack, R. S. DeFries, L. Bounoua , F. Parris, C. G. Tucker, and D. Dazlich (2000).  A global 9-year biophysical land surface dataset from NOAA AVHRR data.   Journal of Hydrometeorology  11(2):183–199.

Malmstrom, C. M. and C. B. Field  (1997). Virus-induced differences in response of oat plants to elevated carbon dioxide.  Plant, Cell and Environment 20:178–188.

Malmstrom, C. M., M. V. Thompson, G. P. Juday, S. O. Los, J. T. Randerson, and C. B. Field (1997).  Interannual variation in global-scale net primary production:  Testing model estimates.  Global Biogeochemical Cycles 11(3):367–392.

Fung, I., C. B. Field, J. A. Berry,  M. V. Thompson, J., C. M. Malmstrom, P. M. Vitousek, G. J. Collatz, P. J. Sellers, D. A. Randall, A. S. Denning, F. Badeck, and J. John (1997).  Carbon-13 exchanges between the atmosphere and biosphere.  Global Biogeochemical Cycles 11(4): 507–533.

Randerson, J. T., M. V. Thompson, C. M. Malmstrom, C. B. Field, and I. Y. Fung (1996).  Substrate limitations for heterotrophs:  Implications for models that estimate the amplitude of the seasonal cycle of atmospheric CO2.  Global Biogeochemical Cycles 10(4):585–602.

Thompson, M. V., J. T. Randerson, C. M. Malmstrom, and C. B. Field (1996).  Change in net primary  production and heterotrophic respiration:  How much is necessary to sustain the terrestrial sink?   Global Biogeochemical Cycles 10(4): 711–726.

Field, C. B., A. Ruimy, Y. Luo, C. M. Malmstrom, J. T. Randerson,  and M. V. Thompson (1996).   VEMAP:  Model shoot-out at the sub-continental corral.  Trends in Ecology and Evolution  11(8):313–314.

Field, C. B., J. T. Randerson, and C. M. Malmstrom (1995).  Global net primary production:  Combining ecology and remote sensing.  Remote Sensing of Environment 51:74–88.


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© 2007 Plant Biology Department, Michigan State University Board of Trustees.