Sarah Bray

Professor of Biology

Sarah Bray gets excited about invasions—of plants, that is. Invasive plants and their effect on ecology is her primary research area, and she relies on Transylvania students to help her with that work.

“I’ve had four students work with me on a project to examine the effect of honeysuckle invasion on decomposition and on microbial and micro-invertebrate communities,” says Bray. “Another student worked with me on the disturbance caused by goldenrod in an old-growth field.”

With that kind of experience under their belts, Bray’s students are well prepared to compete for top placements after they graduate. “Two of our biology graduates recently won very competitive and prestigious National Science Foundation graduate research fellowships, and we’ve seen students enter outstanding medical, veterinary, physical therapy, and physician’s assistant programs. Recent graduates also have entered programs in neuroscience, animal behavior, molecular genetics, and entomology.”

Bray attributes this success in large part to the opportunities Transylvania provides for lab and field work, and the close relationship between students and faculty members. “Many schools offer the opportunity for highly motivated students to do independent research with faculty,” she points out. “At Transylvania, you have these same opportunities, and you can design and implement real experiments in all of your classes. Because classes are small and faculty members teach all the labs, students can get involved in research every year.”

Many of the most important questions in biology are also questions of ethics, sociology, and politics.

Bray also touts the value of Transylvania’s liberal arts curriculum. “It’s important for scientists to be able to communicate with other scientists, but we must be able to communicate with the public and policymakers as well,” she says. “The liberal arts training gives students those skills.”

Academic History

Ph.D., Botany, University of Florida, 2005
B.A., Biology and Environmental Science, Coe College, 1998

Courses Taught at Transy

Integrated Concepts of Biology: Organisms and Ecosystems
Biologist’s Toolkit
Field Botany
Tropical Ecology
Diversity of Life

Areas of Research

Invasive species
Physiological and ecosystem ecology
Correlates of evolutionary knowledge and attitudes
Urban trees
Microbial ecology


Bingham Teaching Award
NSF Predoctoral Fellowship
Phi Kappa Phi
Phi Beta Kappa
Mortar Board
Alpha Lambda Delta

Recent Publications

Bray, S.R., A.M. Hoyt, Z. Yang, M.A. Arthur. 2017. Non-native liana, Euonymus fortunei, associated with increased soil nutrients, unique bacterial communities, and faster decomposition rate. Plant Ecology 218: 329-343. DOI 10.1007/s11258-016-0689-3.

Bray, S.R., P.M. Duffin, and J.D. Wagner. 2016. Thinking deeply about quantitative analysis: building a Biologist’s Toolkit. CourseSource 3:1-8.

Mattingly, K.Z., R.W. McEwan, R.D. Paratley, S.R. Bray, J.R. Lempke, and M.A. Arthur. 2016. Recovery of forest floor diversity after removal of the non-native invasive plant Euonymus fortunei. The Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 143(2): 103-116.

Arthur, M.A., S.R. Bray, K. Kuchle, and R. McEwan. 2012. The influence of the invasive shrub, Lonicera maackii, on leaf decomposition and microbial community dynamics. Plant Ecology 213(10): 1571-1582.

Bray, S.R., K. Kitajima, M.C. Mack. 2012. Temporal dynamics of microbial communities on decomposing leaf litter of 10 plant species in relation to decomposition rate. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 49: 30-37.

NSF Department of Undergraduate Education, s-STEM. “STEM Scholars: Attracting and Retaining Students in Science and Mathematics Majors,” DEB 1259026. Co-PI with E. Csuhai, M. LeVan and G. Kaufman. 2013-2019. $616,377.

Professional Memberships

Associate editor of The Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society
Ecological Society of America
Society for the Study of Evolution
Urban Forestry Initiative