“It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, …and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, …have all been produced by laws acting around us.” — Charles Darwin

Mary Ann Vinton

Associate Professor
Plant Ecology, Nutrient Cycling in Terrestrial Ecosystems

Ph.D. – Colorado State University, 1994
M.S – Kansas State University, 1990
B.S. – University of Wyoming, 1987

Department of Biology
Creighton University
2500 California Plaza
Omaha, NE 68178-0103
Office: Hixson-Lied 438
Lab: Rigge Science 518

Courses Offered

Research Interests

My research interests are in the areas of plant and ecosystem ecology. I know the most about grassland ecosystems and have spent my career working in either tallgrass prairie or dryer grasslands in the Great Plains. My master’s training took place in Kansas, at Konza Prairie, where I explored the role of bison grazing and fire in tallgrass prairie landscapes.

More recently, most of my research can be summed up as addressing the question: “What role do species play in ecosystems?”. The question is a key concern in an increasingly-human dominated world where, on one hand, some species are in danger of extinction and, on the other, some are becoming much more common and invasive. Thus, it is important to evaluate what effect species changes have on key ecosystem functions like productivity, soil fertility and water quality.

I am addressing this question of species effects by examining how plants contribute to productivity and soil nutrient dynamics within grassland and urban ecosystems. I’ve focused on non-native, invasive plants (smooth brome and reed canary) as well as some native prairie plants. My toolbag consists of descriptive work in the field, experimental work in both the field and greenhouse and more recently, remotely-sensed imagery of field sites. Most of my field sites are in or near Omaha in urban/suburban areas and nearby prairie and forested areas of the Missouri River valley. These sites and their particular problems have also motivated me to become well-versed in issues of conservation biology, prairie restoration and urban ecology.

I welcome motivated students to join me in joint research projects. Students may earn research credits and there are several sources of potential funding for summer work. Past research students have gone on to graduate study at University of Wisconsin, University of Hawaii, University of Maine, University of Nevada-Reno, Kansas State University, Colorado State University and University of Wyoming.

Scholarly Works

Selected Publications

Burke I. C., A. R. Mosier, P. B. Hook, D. G. Milchunas, J. E. Barrett, M. A. Vinton, R. L. McCulley, J. P. Kaye, R. A. Gill, H. E. Epstein, R. H. Kelly, W. J. Parton, C. M. Yonker, P. Lowe, and W. K. Lauenroth. 2008. Soil Organic Matter and Nutrient Dynamics of Shortgrass Steppe Ecosystems. Pp. 306-341 in Ecology of the Shortgrass Steppe: Perspectives from Long-term Research (W. K. Lauenroth and I. C. Burke, eds.). Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Roccaforte, K. A. and M. A. Vinton. 2008. Effects of reduced light on growth and allocation patterns in garlic mustard. Proceedings of the 21st North American Prairie Conference. In press.

Vinton, M. A. 2007. Review of The National Grasslands: A Guide to America’s Undiscovered Treasures by Francis Moul. Great Plains Research 17: 236-237.

Vinton, M. A. and E. Goergen. 2006. Plant-soil feedbacks contribute to the persistence of smooth brome (Bromus inermis) in tallgrass prairie. Ecosystems 9: 967-976. Request a copy of full text (PDF)

Murphy, K. L., I. C. Burke, M. A. Vinton, W. K. Lauenroth, M. R. Aguiar, D. A. Wedin, R. A. Virginia and P. N. Lowe. 2002. Regional analysis of litter quality in the central grassland region of North America. Journal of Vegetation Science 13: 395-402

Vinton, M. A., and J. L. Horning. 2001. A fungal endophyte in Canada wild rye: studies on its occurrence, detection and elimination. Proceedings of the 17th North American Prairie Conference 17: 79-84.

Vinton, M. A., E. Kathol, K. Vogel and A. Hopkins. 2001. Endophytic fungi in Canada wild rye in natural grasslands. Journal of Range Management 54: 390-395.

Burke, I. C., W. K. Lauenroth, M. A. Vinton, P. B. Hook, R. H. Kelly, H. E. Epstein, M. R. Aguiar, M. D. Robles, M. O. Aguilera, K. L. Murphy and R. A. Gill. 1998. Plant-soil interactions in temperate grasslands. Biogeochemistry 42: 121-143.

Vinton, M. A. and I. C. Burke. 1997. Contingent effects of plant species on soils along a regional moisture gradient in the Great Plains. Oecologia 110: 393-402.

Vinton, M. A. and S. L. Collins. 1997. Landscape gradients and habitat structure in nature grasslands of the central Great Plains. Pp. 3-19 in Ecology and Conservation of Great Plains Vertebrates. Ecological Studies 125 (F. L. Knopf and F. B. Samson, eds.). Springer-Verlag, New York.

Vinton, M. A. and I. C. Burke. 1995. Interactions between individual plant species and soil nutrient status in short grass steppe. Ecology 76: 1116-1133.

Vinton, M. A., D. C. Hartnett, E. J. Finck and J. M. Briggs. 1993. Interactive effects of fire, Bison (Bison bison) grazing and plant community composition in tallgrass prairie. American Midland Naturalist 129: 10-18.

Vinton, M. A. and D. C. Hartnett. 1992. Effects of bison grazing on Andropogon gerardii and Panicum virgatum in burned and unburned tallgrass prairie. Oecologia 90: 374-382.