About Us


Dr. Tanya Cheeke, Principal Investigator. I am an Assistant Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at WSU. My research examines plant-soil-microbe interactions in a variety of ecosystems, ranging from grasslands to forests to agricultural systems. Current research is aimed at evaluating the efficacy of microbial transplants in the ecological restoration of disturbed grasslands, examining the role of soil inoculations in improving plant productivity in natural and agroecosystems, and identifying plant traits important in governing mycorrhizal colonization.

Al Sullivan_IMG_3950Al Sullivan, MS student I joined the lab in the fall of 2020 shortly after completing my bachelor’s degree in Botany with a minor in geospatial information systems at Weber State University, in Ogden Utah. During my bachelor’s I did an undergrad thesis in arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi community richness in disturbed and undisturbed sub-alpine habitats. I also participated in a study abroad research program where I lead a baseline plant survey of the Horidol Saridog Strictly Protected Area in Ulaan Uul, Mongolia. My current research focuses on understanding how invasion can impact AM fungi in dryland prairie ecosystems. Using the Palouse Prairie as a model system I am looking at the inoculation potential of AM fungi in sites invaded by the invasive annual grass Ventenata dubia. The long-term goal with this research is to determine whether native AM fungi can be a used as an effective tool in restoration of invaded prairie remnants. My current and past research has involved working with local stakeholders to answer significant ecological questions and identify restoration and conservation needs. My goal as a scientist is to continue bridging gaps between science and those whom the science impacts the most. In addition to being an ecologist I am also an artist and hope to pursue a career in the future where I can combine both my art and science skills to further public knowledge and love for our landscapes.

Screen Shot 2021-10-20 at 7.52.07 PMRachel Berner I am a PhD student in Dr. Cheeke’s lab and I am interested in soil microbial ecology, biogeochemistry, and restoration. For my doctoral work, I am studying mycorrhizal fungi, endophytic fungi, and biological soil crusts in the endangered Palouse Prairie. With my project, I hope to improve our understanding of microbial responses to invasion by annual grass Ventenata dubia and improve the resilience of restored ecosystems to invasion and drought under climate change.  Aside from work, I enjoy painting, hiking, and live music.

Madeline_Lueck Madeline Lueck, MS Student I joined the lab in Spring 2020 as a technical assistant and am now pursuing my MSc in Biology under Dr. Cheeke’s advisement. I graduated from Humboldt State University in 2017 with a BS in Botany and have professional experience in ornamental horticulture and forest health research. At WSU Tri-Cities, I am continuing to get my hands dirty by investigating the efficacy of commercial mycorrhizal products on wine grapes grown in eastern Washington. My ultimate goal as a scientist is to combine biology with my passion for horticulture and develop methods to establish soil microbial diversity within agricultural ecosystems.

BeccaEvansBecca Evans is a PhD candidate housed at WSU-Vancouver and co-advised with Dr. Tanya Cheeke and Dr. John Bishop. Becca received her B.S at University of California at Santa Cruz in Ecology and Evolutionary biology. She earned her M.S. in Dr. Dave Evans’ lab at WSU-Pullman studying the impacts of insect herbivory on Lupines on Mount St Helens and the feedbacks to soil C and N. Becca is broadly interested in the impacts of global change on biogeochemical cycles. She is currently investigating the impact of an invasive invertebrate herbivore and nitrogen deposition on soil development on Mount St Helens. Becca is analyzing plant-microbe-soil interactions to understand how global change factors impact soil development and carbon and nitrogen cycling.

Screen Shot 2021-10-20 at 6.43.56 PMShawnee Kasanke I joined the Cheeke and Roley labs at WSU in the fall of 2019 and am now a PhD candidate in the School of the Environment. My PhD dissertation investigates tri-partite mutualistic nutrient exchange between switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, and free-living nitrogen fixing bacteria. I came to WSU after completing my MSc in Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2019, where I studied primary succession of vascular plants and cryptogams in the foreland of a retreating alpine cirque glacier, and across an elevation gradient and chronosequence of glacial retreat spanning 125,000 years in the Arctic central Brooks Range and foothills of Alaska. While in Alaska I also worked as an Arctic lichen specialist, working across Arctic and subarctic Alaska and Canada with the Alaska Geobotany center of the Institute of Arctic Biology under Dr. Skip Walker. I completed my BSc in Botany in 2013 at Humboldt State University, with a special focus on Mycology working with Dr. Terry Henkel on tropical Ectomycorrhizal forest ecology. My goal as a graduate student is to develop a well-rounded skillset with tools that will allow me to pursue a career as a research scientist focusing on mutualistic interactions between plants, fungi, and bacteria ranging from ecosystem scales, to detailed, mechanistic, laboratory-based experiments. I hope to help advance the field of mutualism ecology towards application in ecological restoration, soil health, land management, and agricultural practices by utilizing mutualistic interactions between organisms to naturally repair damaged ecosystems and foster long-term maintenance of healthy soil-plant feedbacks. Ultimately, I’d like to advance my career in academia to become a professor with my own research lab focusing on maintaining Arctic-alpine ecosystems in the face of rapid change.

Stephanie WarnerStephanie Warner joined the Cheeke lab in the Winter of 2020 to gain hands-on lab experience for her undergraduate degree in Biology. She mainly helped Madeline Lueck with the BioAg project. Currently, she is serving through AmeriCorps as a Community Coordinator for the Washington State University, Tri-Cities campus. While being at WSU Tri-Cities she has also working in the MOSAIC Center for Student Inclusion, as well as been the Vice President of the student government, ASWSUTC. She has many interests from the micro of genetics to the macro of weather patterns, and so being in Dr. Cheeke’s lab and learning about microbial fungi has been a fantastic learning experience. Her immediate goal is to continue to expand her experiences in labs to find her niche before entering a Masters/PhD program in the studies of genetics or environmental restoration.

Rey- hikeRey Huachambé  I am a senior at Washington State University of Tri-Cities working on my major in biology with minors in English and Spanish. I joined Dr. Cheeke’s lab in the summer of 2021 to gain experience in research work and hands on lab procedures. As a Lab tech my work is under the guidance of PhD. Student Rachel Berner and support her investigative work regarding mycorrhizal fungi, endophytic fungi, and biological soil crusts in the endangered Palouse Prairie. I am a USAF veteran and a current member of the Washington Air National Guard. My academic and military service have allowed me to complete two Associate degrees at the Community College of the Air Force in 2010 and 2020. My goal is to become an orthopedic surgeon one day. Under the mentorship of Dr. Cheeke and Rachel I seek to developanalytical/critical thinking skills, that I consider vital in the medical profession, in order to provide the best medical care that I can offer.

Emily ArredondoEmily Arredondo, lab assistant. I joined Dr. Cheeke’s lab in Fall 2021, as my first on hands experience since the pandemic. I am working with Alexis Sullivan, a master’s student, on research involving the inoculation potential of AM fungi in sites invaded by annual grass changes in dryland prairie ecosystems. This experiment focuses on understanding AM fungi dynamics and factors that may contribute to its functionality. I am a Mexican American first-generation student; my interest includes ecology and pesticide management. I am currently an environmental student at WSU-Tri-Cities and will graduate with my bachelor’s degree this 2022, and I previously completed my AA degree at Columbia Basin College in 2019. Working in the lab allows me to understand the importance of restoration, the effects on landscape alteration, and the significance of problem-solving skills. After graduation, I plan to go into research involving pesticides and ecological effects and interpret my findings through professional settings as well as in seminars with non-English speaking farmworkers to increase safety and enhance field management practices.

Michael_NMichael Nunnelee I joined the Cheeke Lab in the summer of 2021 as a lab tech. I am currently a senior pursuing an undergraduate degree in Viticulture and Enology. I joined because of my interest in Arbuscular Mycorrizal Fungi (AMF) and its application to commercial vineyards. Due to the pandemic, I was unable to gain sufficient lab experience as I wanted, so joining the Cheeke lab has been an absolute treasure trove of experience and knowledge gained. By working alongside Madeline Reid Lueck for the winegrape AMF project, I am able to understand the inner workings in more practical detail. My goal is to be a traveling winemaker for a few years in order to hone my strengths and gain new insight into the practice of winemaking. From there, I will see where the wind takes me.


Allison Winward I am a Murdock Grant Science Partner at WSU Tri-Cities and a biology teacher at Kamiakin High School in Kennewick. My Bachelor of Science degree is from Central Washington University, and I completed my Master of Education at the University of Washington. I believe in the positive impact of quality science education. My goals include growing my skills and experience in research science, as well as developing relevant, inquiry-based curriculum to benefit my students and colleagues. The Soil Microbial Ecology Lab provides a rich, multidisciplinary atmosphere of learning and hands-on application which I plan to replicate in my classroom.

Gunnar Wickenhagen Photo

Gunnar Wickenhagen is an undergraduate biology major at Washington State University Tri-Cities. He joined the Cheeke lab in Summer 2019 to gain experience of how labs are conducted and the amount of time and effort that goes into each experiment. He seeks to further his education with a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences and hopes to conduct research focused on how to better treat cancer and/or neurodegenerative diseases.

Lab alumni

  • KC Cifizzari, MS student, defended Spring 2021
  • Gunner Davies, MS student, defended Spring 2021
  • Austin Frewert, MS student, defended Fall 2020
  • Marcy McCall, undergraduate researcher
  • Dylan Hartwig, undergraduate researcher
  • Guislen Eager, undergraduate researcher
  • Rylan Hull, undergraduate researcher
  • Mischa Schutz, undergraduate researcher, lab manager
  • Ashley Finnestad, lab manager & undergraduate researcher
  • Cassidi Harris, undergraduate researcher
  • Noah Nilson, undergraduate researcher
  • Nicholas Sconzo, undergraduate researcher
  • Javier Chavez Lara, undergraduate researcher
  • Jeannette Lilly, undergraduate researcher
  • Alea Taylor, undergraduate researcher
  • Megan Brauner, Lab manager, undergraduate researcher
  • Tristan Anderson, post-baccalaureate researcher
  • Patrick Zecchino, undergraduate researcher
  • Lupita Gomez, undergraduate researcher
  • Gerard Lomas, undergraduate researcher
  • Sabrina Sandhu, undergraduate researcher
  • Ella Krinitsyn, undergraduate researcher
  • Alifya Saify, Lab manager
  • Mary Schneider, undergraduate honors thesis
  • Shadan Hani Abdali, undergraduate researcher
  • Bryndalyn Corey, undergraduate researcher
  • Jasmine Gonzales, undergraduate researcher
  • Catalina Yepez, undergraduate researcher