The Dryland Plant Ecophysiology Lab | Desert Botanical Garden


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The Earth’s drylands are home to over one billion people. The delicate balance between humans and the unique biota that thrive in dryland habitats depends largely on maintaining a healthy and stable environment. The Dryland Plant Ecophysiology Lab (DPEL) is tackling the most critical issues affecting dryland plants and ecosystems. The DPEL team brings together a wealth of experience and passion to a core vision of protecting the Earth’s drylands through science, conservation and education.


Milkweeds, monarchs and pollinators in a changing climate

As monarch butterfly populations experience declines of up to 99%  across the United States, and essential host milkweed habitat is lost to urbanization, critical conservation choices need to be made about these species and their interactions. At the DPEL, staff...

Urban landscaping for a cooler future

The heat island effect is extreme in the arid Southwest and are poised to increase in intensity due to population growth and climate change. With collaborators at the School of Earth Sciences and the Environment at Arizona State University, the DPEL is combining...

Plant responses to heat stress

Water loss in plants has commonly been considered only as a cost of photosynthetic carbon gain. However, plants may use water in ways that may not necessarily optimize instantaneous carbon gain, but instead as a strategy for leaf evaporative cooling. The DPEL and...

The distinctive form and function of giant cactus

Giant cactus are among the most charismatic and iconic plant life forms on the planet, but many giant cactus species are threatened by the effects of climate change. At the Dryland Plant Ecophysiology Lab (DPEL) the staff studies the distinctive physiological features...

Tree ecophysiology in dryland riparian ecosystems

Riparian forests are among the most threatened in North America as a consequence of altered hydrological conditions, invasive species and climate change. The Dryland Plant Ecophysiology Lab seeks to identify tree ecophysiological traits that underlie adaptation to...

Meet the Team

Kevine Hultine

Kevin Hultine (Ph.D.)

Lab director / Plant Ecophysiologist

Hultine’s expertise involves studying how plants cope with environmental stress in desert ecosystems in urban, riparian and upland areas. He is focused on the duel effects of drought and thermal stress on plants and ecosystems in dryland regions worldwide. He applies stable isotope methods, measurements in plant water relations and measurements of plant carbon allocation and storage to improve the understanding of how desert plant systems function at multiple scales.

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khultine@dbg.orgphone: 480.481.8195

Lab Director / Plant Ecophysiologist

Luiza Maria T. Aparecido

Luiza Maria T. Aparecido (Ph.D.)

ASU, SESE Exploration Postdoctoral Fellow

Aparecido is a Brazilian plant ecologist interested in assessing how functional biology traits drive plant development under various environmental stressors. Her work emphasis is on how plants respond to environmental and physical disturbances (i.e., climate and land use changes). Aparecido has experience  in various Neotropical sites in North-American savannas, hardwood forests, scrubland, loblolly-oak stands and the Sonoran Desert.


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ASU, SESE Exploration Postdoctoral Fellow

Davis E. Blasini

Davis E. Blasini (M.S.)

PhD. Biology, Arizona State University/Desert Botanical Garden (In progress)

Blasini’s research work focuses on a combination of ecological, physiological and molecular techniques to identify the effects of climate change and exotic species invasion on native plant species. While ecophysiological methods record the direct response of a local adapted species to novel environmental conditions, molecular studies have the potential to elucidate the reasons behind those responses.

PhD. Biology, Arizona State University/Desert Botanical Garden (In progress)

Ivanna Caspeta

Ivanna Caspeta

BS Conservation Biology & Ecology, Arizona State University (In progress)

Caspeta is a bilingual Hispanic/Latinx student interested in desert plant conservation. She is currently working on a project for her honors thesis that investigates the correlation between xylem anatomy, stem morphology and water-use strategies of giant cactus native to the Sonoran Desert.

B.S. Conservation Biology & Ecology, Arizona State University (In progress)

Isabelle DeLeon

Isabella De Leon (B.S.)

M.S., Arizona State University, Biology and Society (In Progress)

De Leon’s interest is focused on the intersection of biology and society and how the two interact with each other. De Leon’s research is focused on investigating whether flowering has a significant water cost to the overall water budget of giant saguaros andisotopic signatures in saguaro spines as a proxy for saguaro water use patterns in reproductive (large) and pre-reproductive (small) saguaros.

M.S., Arizona State University, Biology and Society (In Progress)

Dan Koepke

Dan Koepke (M.S.)

Plant Functional & Physiological Ecology Research Assistant

Koepke manages the Dryland Plant Ecophysiology Lab, assisting lab personnel and colleagues with field and laboratory projects. His work focuses on plant hydraulics and seeks to identify morphological and physiological traits that respond to environmental stresses, and how these traits are interrelated. In turn, information about trait expression improves the ability of site managers to restore ecosystems faced with environmental change.

Google Scholar Profile

Lab Manager and Research Assistant

Natalie Melkonoff

Natalie Melkonoff (B.S.)

PhD. Biology, Arizona State University/Desert Botanical Garden (In progress)

Melkonoff’s work is focused on the interactions between plants and animals and how the physiological processes of both impact their interdependence on one another and their ability to thrive under different environmental stressors. She is currently working on her Ph.D. with a focus on the interactions between milkweed, monarch butterflies and pollinators in the Sonoran Desert. She also coordinates Desert Botanical Garden’s monarch and pollinator conservation initiative, Great Milkweed Grow Out.


Ph.D. University of Arizona/Desert Botanical Garden (In progress)

Madeline Moran

Madeline Moran (B.A.)

M.S. Plant Biology and Conservation, Arizona State University (In progress)

Moran’s background is in plant ecology/conservation and environmental education. Moran’s research interests include how plants physically respond to environmental stress, the implications of those responses within their ecosystem and finding community-based solutions to conservation issues. Currently, she is working on her masters about how the thermal tolerance of cottonwood leaves differs in varying climate conditions and how increasing temperatures might alter the efficacy of photosynthesis in these trees.

M.S. Plant Biology and Conservation, Arizona State University (In progress)

Lab Updates

New paper published by former lab postdoc Dr. Susan Bush
Saltcedar are among the most successful invasive tree species in western North America resulting in alterations in riparian ecosystems that are highly valued for their biodiversity. A recent paper published by Dr. Susan Bush and colleagues in the journal Agricultural...
New paper published by Ph.D. candidate Davis Blasini
Fremont cottonwood are among the most important tree species in the western US providing habitat for numerous species. However, cottonwood forests are also recognized as being highly threatened by many factors, including climate change. A recent paper published by...
Completion of Ph.D. by former lab member, Dr. Giacomo Mozzi.
Dr. Giacomo Mozzi just completed his PhD at the University of Padova in Padova, Italy. Dr. Mozzi’s dissertation focuses on the morphology of leaf and stem succulent plants, including cacti to better understand how these plants cope with water limitations....

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