Health & Human Development


Toddler PointingHand weight with apple and measuring tapeWoman focused laying on lawnBasket of TomatoesSnowboarder in air grabbing the tail of the snowboardTeens smiling at a table


Selena Ahmed, PhD

Selena Ahmed

Assistant Professor
Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems
345 Reid Hall
Montana State University
Bozeman, MT 59717-3370 | 406.994.5640



Dr. Selena Ahmed’s teaching and research interests are at the intersection of the ecological, cultural, and health aspects of food systems. Her research examines the effects of environmental and management variation on multiple dimensions of agro-ecosystems in the context of global change and links to livelihoods, dietary quality, and food security. Dr. Ahmed’s research asks questions such as: How does environmental variation and agro-ecosystem management impact crop quality and farmer livelihoods? How do health outcomes of local food systems reflect the ecology, culture, and policy of a place?

She leads the Agro-ecology and Phytochemistry Group of the Food and Health Lab (FAHL) at MSU in collaboration with Dr. Carmen Byker Shanks. This work includes local, regional, and international projects that seek to inform evidence-based management plans and outreach to promote environmental and human wellbeing. Since 2003, Dr. Ahmed has been assessing food production and consumption systems as case studies to explore complex human-environment interactions. She has conducted food systems research in China, India, Morocco, Venezuela, Belize, the Dominican Republic, and the United States. Her focal study system is tea agro-forestry and subsistence food systems in China’s Yunnan Province in the context of climate change and dietary transition. More recently, she has started to collaboratively evaluate food security and dietary quality in reservation communities in Montana and the effects of global environmental change on specialty crops in the United States. 

Dr. Ahmed's research is grounded in socio-ecological and chemical ecology theory and incorporates a range of social and natural science methods. She measures multiple dimensions of food systems including crop quality (phytochemical and sensory), ecosystem services, and socio-economic and health outcomes. This interdisciplinary work draws from training in Economics (BA from Barnard College), Ethnobotany (MSc from the University of Kent at Canterbury), Biology / Plant Sciences (PhD from the City University of New York and the New York Botanical Garden), Biomedical Sciences and Chemical Ecology (postdoctoral training from the NIH TEACRS program at Tufts University). 

Selected Grants


  • NIH NIGMS Montana IDeA Network for Biomedical Research Excellence (NIH NIGMS P20GM103474), $150,000, PI (multiple PI grant with PIs Carmen Byker Shanks and Mike Tryon)

    Project Title: Measuring Food Environments, Dietary Quality, and Food Security on the Flathead Indian Reservation Towards Mitigating Diet-Related Chronic Disease


  • USGS Northeast Climate Science Center (CSC) Grant, $149,867, Investigator (with PI Kristina Stinson and Investigators Toni Lyn Morelli, Joshua Rapp, David Lutz and Ryan Huish)

    Project Title: Climate Effects on the Culture and Ecology of Sugar Maple


  • NSF Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Large Interdisciplinary Research Project Grant (NSF CNH BCS-1313775), $931,000, Co-PI and Primary Grant Writer (with PI Colin Orians and Co-PIs John Richard Stepp, Albert Robbat, and Sean Cash)

    Project Title: Climate Effects on Tea Quality and Socio-Economic Responses

Selected Peer-Reviewed Publications

  1. Ahmed, S; Peters, CM; Chunlin, L; Meyer, R; Unachukwu, U; Litt, A; Kennelly, E; Stepp, JR. 2013. Biodiversity and Phytochemical Quality in Indigenous and State-Supported Tea Management Systems of Yunnan, China. Conservation Letters. 5 (6): 28-36
  2. Stoeckle, M; Gamble, C; Kirpekar, R; Young, G; Ahmed, S; Little, D. 2011. Commercial Teas Highlight Plant DNA Barcode Identification Successes and Obstacles. Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group). 1 (42) DOI: 10.1038/srep00042
  3. Ahmed, S; Stepp, JR; Toleno, R; Peters, CM. 2010. Increased Market Integration, Value, and Ecological Knowledge of Tea Agro-forests in the Akha Highlands of Southwest China. Ecology and Society. 15 (4): 27
  4. Ahmed, S; Unachukwu, U; Stepp, JR; Peters, CM.; Chunlin, L; Kennelly, E. 2010. Pu-erh Tea Tasting in Yunnan, China: Correlation of Drinkers’ Perceptions to Phytochemistry. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 132: 176-185
  5. Unachukwu, U; Ahmed, S; Kavalier, A; Lyles, J; Kennelly, E. 2010. Variation of Phenolic and Methylxanthine Composition and Anti-oxidant Activity among White and Green Teas (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis (L.) Kuntze Theaceae). Journal of Food Science. 75 (6): C541–C548

Selected Outreach Publications

  1. Byker Shanks, C.; Ahmed, S.; Smith, T.; Houghtaling, B.; Jenkins, M.; Margetts, M.; Schultz, D.; Stephen, L. 2015. Quality of Fruits and Vegetables using the Nutrition Environment Measurement Survey (NEMS) is Lower in More Rural Counties of Montana. Preventing Chronic Disease In press
  2. Herforth, A.; Ahmed, S. 2015. The Food Environment, Its Effects on Dietary Consumption, and Potential for Measurement Within Agriculture-Nutrition Interventions. Food Security DOI 10.1007/s12571-015-0455-8
  3. Ahmed, S; Stepp, JR; Orians, C.; Griffin, T; Matyas, C.; Robbat, A.; Cash, S.; Xue, D; Chunlin, L; Unachuckwu, U.; Buckley, S; Small, D; Kennelly, E. 2014. Effects of Extreme Climate Events on Tea (Camellia sinensis) Functional Quality Validate Indigenous Farmer Knowledge and Sensory Preferences in Tropical China. PLoS One 9(10): e109126
  4. Jordan, N.; Grossman, J.; Lawrence, P.; Harmon, A.; Dyer, W.; Maxwell, B.; Cadieuz, K.V.; Galt, R.; Rojas, A.; Byker, C.; Ahmed, S.; Kebreab, E.; Singh, V.; Michaels, T.; Tzenis, C. 2014. New Curricula For Undergraduate Food Systems Education: A Sustainable Agriculture Education Perspective. NACTA Journal 58(4): 302
  5. Ahmed, S.; Peters, C.M.; Chunlin, L.; Meyer, R.; Unachukwu, U.; Litt, A.; Kennelly, E.; Stepp, J.R. 2013. Biodiversity and Phytochemical Quality in Indigenous and State-Supported Tea Management Systems of Yunnan, China. Conservation Letters. 5 (6): 28-36