Loyola University Chicago

Institute of Environmental Sustainability

Our People

Ray Dybzinski, PhD

Title/s: Assistant Professor

Specialty Area: Applied Plant Biology

Office #: BVM Hall 312

Phone: 773.508.2486

E-mail: rdybzinski@luc.edu

CV Link: Dybzinski CV


Dybzinski is an applied plant biologist with expertise both in the mathematical representation of complex natural and anthropogenically-forced systems (such as forests, farm fields, and grasslands) and in the connections between ecological theory, observations, and experiments. He's striving to understand why plants have the traits that they do and how those traits will affect the pace of climate change. He uses his understanding of the evolutionary and ecological forces that structure plant communities to devise agricultural practices that are more sustainable and supportive of ecosystem services.

Dybzinski received his PhD from the University of Minnesota, where David Tilman advised his work on the mechanisms that sustain biodiversity and the effects of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning. Tilman taught Dybzinski to focus on the big picture (without stumbling over the important details!) and to couple theory and empiricism for the betterment of both.

After graduating, Dybzinski spent time at Princeton University, where he worked with Steve Pacala and his group to understand how forests will change under elevated atmospheric CO2 and how, in turn, those changes will feed back to further increase or reduce atmospheric CO2. Pacala has an extraordinary ability to step back from a problem, ask broadly, “what’s actually going on here?”, assemble the knowledge necessary to construct a solid conceptual or mathematical model, and then use that model to come up with novel solutions to the original problem.


  • PhD, Ecology, University of Minnesota, 2007
  • BS, Physics, BA, Philosophy, Northern Illinois University, 1998

Research Interests

His research is defined by the unique combination of three features. First, he possesses a synthetic view of complex biological systems that incorporates the importance of individual plant performance from a physiological perspective, between-individual interactions from a community perspective, biogeochemical feedbacks from an ecosystem perspective, and fitness impacts from an evolutionary perspective (using, notably, game theory). Second, he uses a modeling framework that includes all of these facets in a mechanistic and quantitative way, yet remains simple enough to afford clear mathematical insight. Third, he informs and rigorously tests his theoretical work with quantitative empirical data from the greenhouse, from the field, and from large-scale datasets.

Professional & Community Affiliations

  • Grant Reviewer: National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, NSF Long Term Ecological Studies
  • Manuscript Reviewer: PNAS, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, The American Naturalist, Ecology Letters, Ecology, Journal of Ecology, Ecological Monographs, New Phytologist, Oecologia, Oikos, Biogeosciences, Theoretical Ecology, Ecosystems, Ecological Modelling, Ecological Research, Biotropica, International Journal of Plant Sciences, Journal of Plant Ecology, The Ecological and Social Consequences of Changes in Biodiversity, Canadian Journal of Botany, European Journal of Soil Biology, The Journal of the
    Torrey Botanical Society, Journal of Management for Global Sustainability

Courses Taught

  • ENVS326 – Agroecosystems In this hands-on, intensive 3-week course, students built knowledge and skills in agriculture and ecology through work in greenhouse, laboratory, classroom, and field settings. Students examined challenges of food production, management decisions, and environmental change facing agroecosystems both locally and abroad. Tours of area farms and class. Skype meetings with sustainable agriculture institutes broadened perspectives.

  • ENVS280 – Principles of Ecology Fostered an in-depth understanding of ecology, the study of relationships between organisms and the environment at organizational scales ranging from genes, individuals, and populations to communities, ecosystems, and landscapes. Topics included population dynamics, species interactions, community dynamics, food webs, ecosystem functions, and landscape ecology with a strong emphasis on scientific inquiry and data interpretation.

  • Principles of Ecology Lab Students developed skills and analytical techniques commonly employed in ecological studies. The course will emphasized field work, laboratory technique, data analysis, and hypothesis testing in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.


  • Nominated for Faculty of the Year, Loyola University Chicago (2017)
  • Nominated for Langerbeck Faculty Mentor Award (2017)
  • Loyola Faculty Development Summer Research Stipend. $7000 “Moving critical empirical research in fossil carbon sequestrations and sustainable agriculture forward with a flexible game theoretic model of plant interactions.”(2016)
  • Award for Outstanding Performance as a Teaching Assistant (2003)
  • University of Minnesota Graduate Student Fellowship (2002)

Selected Publications

  • Weng, E, CE Farrior, R Dybzinski, SW Pacala. 2017. Predicting vegetation type through physiological and environmental interactions with leaf traits: evergreen and deciduous forests in an earth system modeling framework. Global Change Biology 23, 2482–2498.
  • Landrum, N, R Dybzinski, A Smajlovic, B M Ohsowski. 2016. Managing for Resilience: Lessons from Ecology. Journal of Management for Global Sustainability 3: 75-99.
  • Weng, E, S Malyshev, J W Lichstein, C E Farrior, R Dybzinski, T Zhang, E Shevliakova, S W Pacala. 2015. Scaling from individual trees to forests in an Earth system modeling framework using a mathematically tractable model of height-structured competition. Biogeosciences 12: 2655-2694. DOI:10.5194/bg-12-2655-2015
  • Farrior, C, I Rodriguez-Iturbe, R Dybzinski, S Levin, and S Pacala. 2015. Decreased water limitation under elevated CO 2 amplifies potential for forest carbon sinks. PNAS 112 DOI:10.1073/pnas.1506262112
  • Dybzinski, R, C E Farrior, and S W Pacala. 2015. Increased forest carbon storage with increased atmospheric CO2 despite nitrogen limitation: A game-theoretic allocation model for trees in competition for nitrogen and light. Global Change Biology 21. DOI:10.1111/gcb.12783
  • Dybzinski, R, N Beckman*, and D Tilman. 2014. Neighborhoods have little effect on predispersal fungal or insect seed predation in a grassland biodiversity experiment. Oecologia 174: 521–532. doi 10.1007/s00442-013-2788-3
  • Farrior, C E, D Tilman, R Dybzinski, P B Reich, and S W Pacala. 2013. Resource limitation in a competitive context determines complex plant responses to experimental resource additions. Ecology 94: 2505–2517.
  • Dybzinski, R, C Farrior, S Ollinger, and S Pacala. 2013. Interspecific versus intraspecific patterns in leaf nitrogen of forest trees across nitrogen availability gradients. New Phytologist 200: 112-121. doi: 10.1111/nph.12353
  • Craine, J and R Dybzinski. 2013. Mechanisms of plant competition for nutrients, water and light. Functional Ecology 27: 833-840. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.12081
  • Dybzinski*, R and G McNickle*. 2013. Game theory and plant ecology. Ecology Letters 16: 545-555. doi: 10.1111/ele.12071
  • Farrior, C, R Dybzinski, S Levin, and S Pacala. 2013. Competition for water and light in closed-canopy forests: a tractable model of carbon allocation with implications for carbon sinks. The American Naturalist 181: 314-330. doi: 10.1086/669153 (Faculty of 1000 Recommended and awarded the American Naturalist’s Presidential Award for best paper of 2013)
  • Franklin, O, J Johansson, R Dewar, U Dieckmann, R McMurtrie, Å Brännström, and R Dybzinski. 2012. Modeling carbon allocation in trees –a search for principles. Tree Physiology 32: 648-666. doi: 10.1093/treephys/tpr138
  • Dybzinski, R and D Tilman. 2012. Seed and microsite limitation in a late-successional old field: the effects of water, adults, litter, and small mammals on seeds and seedlings. Plant Ecology 213: 1003-1013. doi: 10.1007/s11258-012-0060-2
  • Dybzinski, R, C Farrior, A Wolf, P Reich, and S Pacala. 2011. Evolutionarily stable strategy carbon allocation to foliage, wood, and fine roots in trees competing for light and nitrogen: an analytically-tractable, individual-based model and quantitative comparisons to data. The American Naturalist 177: 153-166. doi: 10.1086/657992 (Faculty of 1000