Skip to:

GRI Employee Spotlight

Spotlight Image

Gray Turnage, Ph.D.

Title: Assistant Research/Extension Professor
Time at GRI: Since 2011
Hometown: Biloxi, Mississippi

Q: What is your academic background?
I originally thought I wanted to be an Engineer; however, after my first engineering class at MSU I realized it was not for me and switched to Biology, something I had always been good at. I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Biologic Sciences in 2008, Master of Science in Biological Science in 2013, and just recently earned my Doctor of Philosophy in Plant and Soil Sciences (Weed Science) in 2021.

Q: What are your research interests?
My research interests are focused in two areas:
1) enhancing management strategies for invasive plants in wetland and aquatic ecosystems, and
2) refining techniques for utilization of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) technology to identify invasive species across different landscapes.

Q: Who inspired you to purse the career you have today?
Dr. John Madsen helped steer me to the work I do today. In 2011, he hired me as a research associate which allowed me the opportunity to shift from theory-based work into a more applied science role. I was more comfortable in the applied environment because it allowed me to develop solutions to problems and to see how those solutions were able to deliver positive results for our stakeholders. When Dr. Madsen left GRI, I inherited the program he left behind, and I have continued the work he started and have been able to mold it into my own to make it what it is today.

I could see how the work we were doing was impacting people’s lives, and that really stuck with me and I thought, “I can make a career out of this.”

Q: What has been your favorite project while working at GRI?
Mapping invasive and native marsh vegetation with UAS in the Pearl River delta near Slidell, Louisiana. For this project we mapped a 30,000-acre marsh complex over a three-year period to figure out why floodwaters were not rising as high as they were being predicted within that region. We found a huge channel that had been scoured through the landscape by a hurricane that was diverting water away from where it had traditionally flowed. About half the water from the western Pearl River was now flowing through this new scoured channel into the central Pearl river region and alleviating the potential for flooding.

Q: What is the coolest thing you are working on right now?
We are just starting a project in Florida working with an invasive plant (Cuban bulrush) that has two growth forms or biotypes: a single seed head variety and a multiple seed head variety. We are not sure if the two growth forms respond the same way to chemical control measures. To find out, we are establishing research plots of each biotype across central Florida that will receive various herbicide treatments to determine if the two biotypes respond differently to chemical control. We have a network of collaborators with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that will be monitoring these plots over a one-year period. They will harvest biomass samples after treatment for us (MSU) to assess the amount of biomass reduction in the plots that are treated verses those that are not being treated. The state of Florida spends somewhere between $15 - $20 million dollars annually on chemical control of invasive aquatic plants, so if we can find a way to get this species under control with less herbicide usage, we will be able to help them save money in the future.

Spotlight Image
Q: What is working at GRI like?
Its great! I get to pick the projects I want to work on, travel to new places, and interact with people from different countries.

Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
I worked as a horse wrangler at a kid’s camp during the summer months my first few years in college.

Q: What kinds of hobbies and interests do you have outside of work?
Anything outdoors - gardening, hunting, fishing, camping, etc.