Ryan L. Sensenig Professor of the Practice

Fire and Grazing Ecology of Grassland Systems
Ryan L.  Sensenig

Academic Interests:

My research has focused on integrating fire ecology, allometric scaling, and herbivore ecology in both savanna grasslands (Kenya) and in reconstructed Tallgrass prairies (Indiana). This work seeks to better understand how the key disturbances of grazing and fire influence plant compositional dynamics, ant-plant mutualisms (in Kenyan savannas), and the visitation to burn sites by megaherbivores (including elephants).

More recently, with additional collaborators, I am studying how fire and grazing in grasslands affects soil organic carbon (using plots in Indiana and Kenya). This is particularly important given grassland restoration/management can be a vital tool to help sequester carbon, as grasslands contain 30% of the world’s SOC (80% of which is belowground). We are examining the effects of fire and grazing on belowground root dynamics (via minirhizotrons), soil microbial biomass, and pyrogenic carbon. An important personal commitment is to integrate this work into teaching and research opportunities for undergraduate students. For example, during a summer field program, we invite a team of Kenyan and U.S. undergraduates to collaboratively study their respective grasslands in both Kenyan savannas and Midwestern tallgrass prairies.



  • Professor of the Practice, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame, 2023-present       
  • Professor of Biology, Director of Environmental & Marine Science Program, Goshen College, 2016-2023         
  • Chair, Department of Biological Sciences, Goshen College, 2011-2019
  • Director of J.N. Roth Marine Biology Station, Goshen College, 2007-2023
  • Associate Professor of Biology, Director of Environmental Science Program, Goshen College, 2011-2016         
  • Assistant Professor of Biology, Director of Environmental Science Program, Goshen College, 2007-2010
  • Ph.D. Ecology, University of California, Davis, CA 2007
  • B.S. Biology, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA 1992


Selected Publications:

  • Young, TP, DM Kimuyu, E LaMalfa, KE Veblen, CM Werner, C Jones, P Masudi, R Ang'ila, and RL Sensenig, 2022. The effects of large mammalian herbivory, previous fire, and year of burn on fire behavior in an African savanna. Ecosphere, 13:e3980.
  • MW Ngugi, DM Kimuyu, RL Sensenig, WO Odadi, SK Kiboi, JK Omari, TP Young, 2022. Fire and Herbivory Interactively Suppress the Survival and Growth of Trees in an African Semiarid Savanna. Fire 5 (5), 169
  • Werner CM, DM Kimuyu, KE Veblen, RL Sensenig, E LaMalfa, and TP Young. 2021. Synergistic effects of herbivores and previous fire on fine-scale spatial heterogeneity of prescribed burns. Ecology, 102(4), e03270.
  • LaMalfa, EM, DM Kimuyu, RL Sensenig, TP Young, C Riginos, KE Veblen. 2019. Tree resprout dynamics following fire depend on herbivory by wild ungulate herbivores. Journal of Ecology, 107: 2493-2502.
  • Bergstrom, B, RL Sensenig, D Augustine, TP Young. 2018. Searching for cover: Soil enrichment and herbivore exclusion, not fire, enhance small-mammal abundance on East African savannas, Ecosphere, 9:e02519.
  • Sensenig, RL, DM Kimuyu, JC Ruiz Guajardo, KE Veblen, C Riginos, KE Veblen, TP Young. 2017. Fire disturbance disrupts an acacia ant-plant mutualism in favor of a subordinate ant species. Ecology 98(5):1455–1464.
  • Kimuyu, DM, RL Sensenig, RM Chira, JM Githaiga, and TP Young. 2017. Spatial scales influence long-term response of herbivores to prescribed burning in a savanna ecosystem. International Journal of Wildland Fire 26(4):287.
  • Odadi, WO, DM Kimuyu, RL Sensenig RL, KE Veblen, C Riginos, and TP Young. 2016. Fire‐induced negative nutritional outcomes for cattle when sharing habitat with native ungulates in an African savanna. Journal of Applied Ecology doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12785.
  • Pringle, RM, DM Kimuyu, RL Sensenig, TM Palmer, C Riginos, KE Veblen, TP Young. 2015. Synergistic effects of fire and elephants on arboreal animals in an African savanna. Journal of Animal Ecology 84:1637-1645.
  • Kimuyu DM, RL Sensenig, C Riginos, KE Veblen, and TP Young. 2014. Native and domestic browsers and grazers reduce fuel loads, fire temperatures, and acacia-ant mortality in an African savanna. Ecological Applications 24: 741-749.