Sarah McCarthy Neumann

I am a forest ecologist whose research (both greenhouse and field based) focuses on plant-soil feedbacks as a mechanism for shaping community composition, structure and productivity of temperate and tropical forests. In particular, I am interested in feedbacks between plants and their soil community (both damping-off and mycorrhizal fungi as well as abiotic mediated feedbacks) and the impact that these feedbacks can have on maintenance of tree species diversity, exotic plant invasions as well as native species shifting range boundaries due to climate change. I also investigate how abiotic factors (e.g. climate, light, soil fertility or moisture) can impact the occurrence or strength of these feedbacks. I use a mechanistic approach in my research to investigate the causes or processes underlying patterns occurring at the community level.


Assistant Professor



Educational Background

  • Post-doctoral Fellow, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Michigan (2009-2012)
  • Ph.D. Forestry & Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior, Michigan State University (2008)
  • B.S. Biology, University of the South (1999)


Assistant Professor

My career at Alma began in


I'm an expert in

temperate and tropical forest ecology, plant-soil feedback

Signature course(s):

General Botany (BIO 202) and Ecology of Terrestrial Ecosystems (BIO 380)

Recent publications:

  • Ibáñez, I. and McCarthy-Neumann, S. 2014 Integrated assessment of the direct and indirect effects of resource gradients on tree species recruitment Ecology 95(2): 364-375.
  • McCarthy-Neumann, S. and Ibáñez, I. 2013 Plant-soil feedback links negative distance dependence and light gradient partitioning during seedling establishment Ecology 94(4): 780-786.
  • McCarthy-Neumann, S., and I. Ibáñez. 2012. Tree range expansion may be enhanced by escape from negative plant-soil feedbacks. Ecology 93: 2637-2649.
  • McCarthy-Neumann, S. & R.K. Kobe. 2010. Conspecific and heterospecific tree-soil feedbacks influence survivorship and growth of temperate tree seedlings. Journal of Ecology 98: 396-407.
  • McCarthy-Neumann, S. & R.K. Kobe. 2010. Conspecific tree-soil feedbacks influence survivorship and growth of tropical tree seedlings. Journal of Ecology 98: 408-418.
  • McCarthy-Neumann, S. & R.K. Kobe. 2008. Tolerance of soil pathogens co-varies with shade tolerance across species of tropical tree seedlings. Ecology 89(7): 1883-1892. 

Recent presentations:

  • 2015, Effects of mycorrhizal fungi on tree seedling growth: quantifying the parasitism-mutualism transition along a light gradient. Poster. 8th International Conference on Mycorrhiza (ICOM-8). Flagstaff, AZ.
  • 2013, The role of plant-soil feedbacks in forest community dynamics. Invited Speaker, Biology Department, Alma College.
  • 2013, Plant-soil feedback and species coexistence: Interactions among pathogens, resources and species life histories. Oral presentation. Annual Mtg. of the Ecological Society of America (ESA). Minneapolis, MN. 

  • 2012, The role of plant-soil feedbacks in forest community dynamics. Invited Speaker, Hanover Seminar Series, Forestry Department, Michigan State University. 
  • 2011, Inclusion of plant-soil feedbacks in assessing Great Lakes tree range expansion in response to climate change. Oral presentation. Annual Mtg. of ESA. Austin, TX.
  • 2011, Plant-soil feedback effects on the colonization of tree species tracking climate change. Invited Speaker, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department, University of Michigan. 
  • 2011, Testing the Janzen-Connell model with plant-soil feedbacks. Invited Speaker. School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan.

Recent grants:

  • RUI: Plant-soil feedback and species coexistence: interactions among soil pathogens, irradiance, and species life histories (2015-2018), NSF-DEB, PI: Sarah McCarthy-Neumann, CoPI’s: Richard Kobe and  Inés Ibáñez ($493,093).
  • Effect of site soil fertility on the strength of plant-soil feedbacks (2013), MSU – Faculty Incentive Grant, PI: Sarah McCarthy ($1,000).
  • The role of plant-soil feedback on species potential to expand their distributional ranges in response to climate change (2009-2011), NSF-EAGER, PI: Inés Ibáñez, CoPI: Sarah McCarthy-Neumann ($247,752)
  • Plant-soil feedback effects on colonization potential of migrant species during climate change (2008-2009), McIntire-Stennis USDA, PI: Inés Ibáñez, CoPI: Sarah McCarthy-Neumann ($58,684)
  • Soil pathogen mediated tree species coexistence (2003-2006), NSF-DEB, PI: Richard Kobe, CoPI: Sarah McCarthy-Neumann ($297,218)