MSU plant biology professor’s research paper named among ‘100 Most Influential’


Katherine Gross

A research paper authored by Katherine L. Gross, Michigan State University (MSU) distinguished professor of plant biology and director of the MSU W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, has been recognized by the British Ecological Society (BES) as one of the top 100 most influential papers ever published by the organization.

The society, founded in 1913, published the list as part of its 100th anniversary celebration. One hundred ecologists worldwide were asked to nominate a paper that they felt either influenced them or the science of ecology.

Thomas J. Givnish, the Henry Allan Gleason professor of botany and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, nominated Gross’s 1984 study, “Effect of seed size and growth form on seedling establishment of six monocarpic perennial plants,” published in Vol. 72 of the BES Journal of Ecology, describing the work as seminal.

Givnish wrote: “This seminal study is based on a comparative experiment, in which Gross measured the relative growth rate (RGR, mg g-1 day-1) of six monocarpic herbs that share basal leaves but span more than two orders of magnitude in seed size. When plants were grown on bare soil, with or without litter, RGR decreased with seed size within and across species. When grown with a competitor, plants instead displayed an increase in RGR with seed size. These context-specific differences in RGR – combined with the usual advantages in seed number for smaller-seeded species at a given reproductive effort – have profound implications, suggesting that competition should favor small seeds in fugitive species that establish in recent disturbances, and larger seeds in species that establish in more crowded microsites. This study confirmed some earlier ideas regarding the adaptive significance of seed size, but surprisingly demonstrated an RGR advantage for small seeds in open microsites – a pattern supported by several later glasshouse studies. Gross’ investigation should be replicated on a grand scale, with phylogenetically structured analyses and addition of several co-varying traits, and the basis of context-specific advantages in RGR sought in the allometry of allocation to different organs and correlations with photosynthetic traits.”

“It was both a surprise and an honor to have my research selected for this recognition, especially by a colleague who I didn’t know followed my work that closely,” Gross said. “The paper was from an experiment that I did early in my career and was a small study that had clear results—not all that typical for ecological research.”

“Professor Gross is an outstanding scientist in her own right and, as director of the Kellogg Biological Station, an outstanding scientific leader,” said James R. Kirkpatrick, College of Natural Science dean. “Michigan State is very proud of her accomplishments, and she is to be congratulated for this wonderful recognition of her work.”

To see the complete list of nominated papers, and to read Gross’s study, visit:

The W.K. Kellogg Biological Station is MSU’s largest off-campus education complex and one of North America’s premier inland field stations. KBS’s mission is focused on ecological and environmental research and education. The station is administered through the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the College of Natural Science.