Jenny Kao-Kniffin

Jenny Kao-Kniffin

Assistant Professor

As an Assistant Professor in the Department of Horticulture, I study the belowground ecology of horticultural landscapes and extend research results to the public. Much of my work focuses on the ecology and management of invasive plants and weeds found in horticultural landscapes, wetlands, and urban ecosystems. Soil microorganisms impact plant populations in many ways, both beneficially (aiding in plant growth and fitness) and negatively (keeping populations in check). Many of these interactions can be isolated to better understand their potential for plant management.

Research Focus

Research in my lab centers on the role of soil microorganisms in impacting plant growth, physiology, and fitness. We apply concepts and techniques in microbial ecology to uncover the relationships between soil microbial communities and plant traits. The research projects include the use of experimental microbial ecosystems to uncover the microbial-based mechanisms mediating plant and ecosystem traits. Examining the mechanistic basis of microbial selection studies can yield the development of microbial consortia, isolation of new microbial strains, and purification of compounds that enhance desirable plant populations while suppressing weeds. For more information, visit my lab website:

Outreach and Extension Focus

My extension duties focus on assisting public and private audiences with the most appropriate methods to manage weedy and invasive plants in horticultural landscapes. We are developing a web-based software program that allows users to select weed methods based on conventional or organic weed management preferences. We work with public, private, and university partners in developing innovative, cost-effective control strategies that can be integrated into sustainable weed management programs.

Selected Publications

Journal Publications

  • Kao-Kniffin, J., & Zhu, B. (2013). A microbial link between elevated CO2 and methane emissions that is plant species-specific. Microbial Ecology. 66:621-629.
  • Kao-Kniffin, J., Carver, S., & DiTommaso, A. (2013). Advancing weed management strategies using metagenomic techniques.. Weed Science. 61:171-184.
  • Kao-Kniffin, J., Freyre, J., & Balser, T. (2011). Increased methane emissions from an invasive wetland plant under elevated carbon dioxide levels. Applied Soil Ecology. 48:309-312.
  • Kao-Kniffin, J., Freyre, D., & Balser, T. (2010). Methane dynamics across wetland plant species. Aquatic Botany. 93:107-113.
  • Kao-Kniffin, J., & Balser, T. (2010). Soil microbial composition and nitrogen cycling in a disturbed wet prairie restoration (Wisconsin). Ecological Restoration. 28:20-22.
  • Kao-Kniffin, J., & Balser, T. (2008). Soil fertility and the impact of exotic invasion on microbial communities in Hawaiian forests. Microbial Ecology. 56:55-63.
  • Kao-Kniffin, J., & Balser, T. (2007). Elevated CO2 differentially alters belowground plant and soil microbial community structure in reed canary grass-invaded experimental wetlands. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 39:517-525.
  • Kao-Kniffin, J., Titus, J., & Zhu, W. (2003). Differential nitrogen and phosphorus retention by five wetland plant species. Wetlands. 23:979-987.

Book Chapters

  • Kao-Kniffin, J. (2012). Rhizosphere ecology. McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 11th Edition. McGraw-Hill Editors (ed.), McGraw-Hill,

Presentations and Activities

  • Uncovering Potential Drivers in Soil Function using Microbial Experimental Systems. December 2014. Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies. Millbrook, NY.
  • Turf Wars and the Emergence of Pesticide Bans in Canada and the U.S.. February 2014. Weed Science Society of America. Vancouver, BC.