Dr. Chris Payne

Assistant Professor of Biology

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Dr. Payne received his Ph.D. in ecology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his B.S. in biology from Saint Vincent College. He currently serves as an assistant professor of biology and teaches ecology, environmental science, and anatomy and physiology. In each of these, students learn to recognize complex relationships among topics – anatomical structures and organs functioning together in the human body, interactions of diverse animals and plants with equally diverse ecosystems, and humankind’s complicated relationship with the world around us. Together, learning to discern and understand complex relationships through critical analysis of these systems provides the foundation for informed care of human and environmental health and sustainability manifested through careers in medical science, environmental science, and broader biological fields of study.

To supplement classroom instruction regarding intricate systems, Dr. Payne’s research focuses on the ecology and temporal dynamics of the complex system of Eastern US forests. His interests regarding forested ecosystems are broad with past experiences studying trees, bats, birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, riparian habitats, landscape attributes, and bioacoustics. His graduate work involved extensive remeasurement and analysis of >100,000 trees culminating an unprecedented 80-year-long permanent plot study in the Duke Forest to better understand long-term forest dynamics. This unprecedented work paired with his wide-ranging research experiences has laid an extensive foundation for examining diverse organisms and characteristics of eastern forests. Dr. Payne has brought this broad but rich understanding of forests to Franciscan University to collaborate with students and colleagues to continue exploring the complexities of the forested landscapes and their inhabitants in and around the Ohio Valley as they continue changing through time.

Dr. Payne, a member of the Society of Catholic Scientists, is devoted to helping students unite faith and science through the pursuit of truth. He enjoys providing students the tools and experiences to learn to think critically about the complex world around them so that they can come to more deeply recognize the beauty of God’s Creation and to discern truth in their lives. As a result, his classes always challenge students to “learn how to learn.”

As Catholics, we are called to love and care for our neighbor, which – broadly defined – includes all of Creation. Dr. Payne believes that deepening our understanding of Creation through scientific discovery enables us to become better-informed stewards of God’s Creation. This informed stewardship, grounded in Gospel teachings of love, not only benefits the wellbeing of humankind and God’s creatures and landscapes, but it also serves as a source of ongoing conversion that informs our lifelong vocation as Christ’s disciples. Creation is a testimony of God’s goodness, and as we expand our understanding of His wonderfully complex Creation, our awe and joy can serve to worship and glorify the Lord and to grow to love Him more perfectly.

  • Ph.D., Ecology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    Advisor: Robert K. Peet
    Dissertation: Long-term temporal dynamics of the Duke Forest
  • B.S. Biology, summa cum laude, Saint Vincent College
    Advisor: Cynthia A. Walter
    Thesis: Bat foraging in riparian zones: Responses to stream quality, insect abundance & season



2020-Present      Assistant Professor of Biology, Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH
Courses: Ecology, Environmental Science, Anatomy and Physiology

2018-2020           Assistant Professor of Biology, Malone University, Canton, OH
Courses: Ecology, Botany, General Biology I and II, Environmental Science, Zoology, and Human Anatomy

2017                        Adjunct Biology Professor, Shaw University, Raleigh, NC
Course: General Biology

2013-2018           Lab Instructor / Teaching Assistant (Head Teaching Assistant 2015,16), University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.
Course: Human Anatomy & Physiology

2012                        Teaching Assistant / Recitation Instructor, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.
Course: Introduction to Environment and Society

2011                        Teaching Assistant, Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, PA.
Course: Ecology


2015-2020           Moderator and top-ranked educator, Biology Stack Exchange online learning community

2014-2016           Recycling Educator and Outreach Assistant, Orange County Solid Waste Management, NC.

2009                        Environmental Educator / Assistant to Park Naturalist, Keystone State Park, Derry, PA.


2019                           Payne, C. J. “Academic Engagement.” 1st Year Student ExPo, Malone University, Canton, OH.

2019                           Payne, C. J. “The Before, During, and After Guide to Academic Success.” Study Skills ExPo, Malone University, Canton, OH.

2018                           Payne, C. J. and J. Courter. “Becoming a Professional in the Natural Sciences Workshop.” Malone University, Canton, OH.

2017                           Payne, C. J. “Intro to Shiny Workshop.” Biology Research Symposium, UNC Chapel Hill, NC.

2014                           Payne, C. J. “Research, Internships, & Grad School.” Invited seminar. Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, PA.


2011-2018           Ph.D. Student/Candidate, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.
Resampled and analyzed 80-years of tree growth data to examine long-term forest dynamics; managed 21 research assistants.

2018                        Developed interactive web app to analyze complex changing biological systems: Payne, C. J. “MultiEDA: An interactive exploratory data viewer for multivariate plot-based inventory data.” Association of Southeastern Biologists 79th Annual Meeting, Myrtle Beach, SC.

2012-13, 2015  Team Leader, Carolina Vegetation Survey, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.
Led survey teams in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain of NC and SC.

2011 Summer    Bioacoustics Assistant, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Rector, PA.
Recorded and analyzed audio recordings of migratory birds to aid in the advancement of bioacoustic monitoring techniques and technologies.

2011 Summer    Research Volunteer, State Museum of Pennsylvania and Powdermill Nature Reserve, PA.
Trapped, measured and monitored aquatic turtles, terrestrial turtles and snakes as part of three long-term monitoring studies at the Powdermill Nature Reserve.

2010-2011           Senior Research Thesis, Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, PA.
Examined riparian bat foraging behavior (via bioacoustics) in response to physical, chemical, and biological habitat degradation.

2010 Summer    NSF REU Intern, University of Alaska Anchorage, Anchorage, AK.
Examined physical and physiological determinants for relative growth of treeline white spruce (Picea glauca) to better inform climate change models. Additionally assisted with physiological and microclimate monitoring of ITEX chamber experiments to examine their effectiveness for climate change studies.

2008 Summer    LOWA Intern, Louisiana Waterthrush project, Powdermill Nature Reserve, Rector, PA.
Performed extensive field data collection to assess stream and habitat quality effects on an obligate riparian songbird’s breeding biology and foraging ecology in this long-term study.

Professional Societies

  • Ecological Society of America
  • Society of Catholic Scientists
  • National Association of Biology Teachers
  • Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Association of Southeastern Biologists

My research interests focus on temporal dynamics of natural systems. My current research examines patterns of long-term forest change and how various biological, ecological and environmental drivers interact to produce observed patterns. Specifically, I am interested in understanding how these various interrelated factors affect population demographics (growth, regeneration and mortality) and community dynamics (diversity, competition and productivity). These data will enhance our understanding of ecological community dynamics and as a result improve forest management and accurate forecasting of global change consequences. This is imperative because forests provide many ecosystem services, harbor a large percentage of the world’s biodiversity and play a pivotal role in carbon sequestration.

My research interests have also begun shifting toward examining the dynamics of pest organisms moving westward into and across the Ohio Valley region. Such interests include tracking and understanding the driving mechanisms behind shifting tick (Ixodidae species) abundances and the threat of the quickly spreading spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula).

I am actively recruiting students to join my research program to examine the dynamics of regional forests and their inhabitants. I am also eager to share analytical, statistical and cutting-edge software knowledge with students to familiarize them with tools that they could apply to their future research endeavors. For example, I can help students become familiarized with one of the fastest growing statistical and analytical programs in biological science: R. My ultimate goal is to provide motivated students with direct research experiences both in and outside of the classroom to prepare and excite them for successful STEM careers.

Department Faculty