College of Arts & Sciences Missouri River Institute

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Associated Faculty

Faculty Associated with the Missouri River Institute


David Swanson

David Swanson, Ph.D.,
Director, Missouri River Institute
Professor, Department of Biology

David Swanson, Ph.D., Department of Biology, has been studying Neotropical migrant bird occurrence in Missouri and Big Sioux River riparian corridors during spring and fall migration periods. Large numbers of a diverse assemblage of Neotropical migrant species use these habitats during migration and these riparian sites appear to function as high quality stopover habitat for these species. He has also studied abundance, species richness and nesting success for breeding birds in Missouri and Big Sioux River riparian woodlands for comparisons with birds in anthropogenic farmstead woodlots. These studies have revealed similar nesting success, but higher breeding species richness in riparian corridors than in farmstead woodlots. His team has also quantified the abundance and species richness of breeding birds in early and later successional habitats along the Missouri River. Data from these studies indicate high species richness and abundance in early successional habitats, which are probably the most endangered habitat types along the river. He is an ornithologist who studies the breeding and migration ecology of birds and the physiological mechanisms involved in adjusting to changing energy demands throughout the annual cycle.

Tim Cowman, Natural Resources Administrator  with the SD Geological Survey, has been doing research on the geomorphology and dynamics of the Missouri River to address issues related to erosion, accretion, former channels, island formation and state boundary issues. Aspects of his research include the study of the early natural history of the Missouri River system dating back to the Pleistocene Epoch. He also studies the Missouri River steamboat era, and was part of a team that conducted a survey of the North Alabama steamboat discovery.

Jacob Kerby, Ph.D., Department of Biology, is doing research that has focused on understanding the impacts of multiple stressors, both biotic (predators and pathogens) and abiotic (pollutants and habitat alterations), on aquatic communities. This research has benefits to advance not only the theory of the relevant fields but also the conservation of the species involved. The goal of this research is to not only observe the negative impacts stressors have on organisms within a community, but also to learn about the changes in community dynamics that result.

Larry Bradley, Ph.D., Anthropology Program, Department of Social Behavior, is doing research in prehistoric and historic archaeology along the river.  He is an archaeologist with experience in both prehistoric and historic site analysis. For several years he has conducted excavations on a major PaleoIndian habitation site (ca. 10,000 BP) and a large Archaic bison kill site (ca. 5000 BP) along the edge of the river valley, and surveyed and recorded an ice harbor, for the winter storage of steamboats, near Sioux City, Iowa. He is presently conducting research on the steamboat North Alabama, wrecked in 1870 near Obert, NE and now exposed on a sand bar in the river.

Matthew Sayre, Ph.D., Anthropology Program, is an archaeologist who principally works in the Peruvian Andes. His work is part of the broader field of historical ecology. This research connects humans to the landscape and the MRI is an institute devoted to understanding the relationship between local people and the river environment.

Mark Dixon, Ph.D., Department of Biology, is doing research that centers on the drivers of vegetation and landscape change in riparian ecosystems, with a particular focus on the dynamics and structure of floodplain forests along the Missouri River. In his current work, he and collaborators are examining the effects of the 2011 flood on forest vegetation, cottonwood recruitment, riparian songbird communities, and land cover change.  Other Missouri River work includes examining the implications of forest successional patterns and land cover change on long-term trajectories of floodplain forests and their biota.  His research utilizes GIS, historic aerial photography, and field sampling to investigate past, present, and future dynamics of ecological systems.

Dan Soluk, Ph.D., Department of Biology, is doing research that involves population, community, and behavioral ecology of aquatic organisms, specifically, the role of behavioral interactions in structuring populations and communities. He is also conducting research on the conservation of endangered aquatic organisms and ecosystems, and the health of biotic communities associated with the mainstream channel of large floodplain rivers.

Howard Coker, Ph.D. (, Department of Chemistry, has been investigating the feasibility of a permanent solution to the problem of silt loading and sedimentation in specific sections of the Missouri River and the premature siltation of its major reservoirs. He has developed an economically viable proposal to dredge the sediments from the affected areas and transport them by pipeline back into the river channel downstream of the dams. Results of his research are pending publication in the Journal of the American Water Works Association.

Ranjit Koodali, Ph.D., Department of Chemistry, is part of an interdisciplinary team interested in impacts of land use to the Missouri River floodplain. His expertise lies in application of nanomaterials to catalytically degrade aqueous pollutants using advanced oxidation methods.

Michelle Van Maanan, Department of Media and Journalism, is the lead producer for the Missouri River Oral History Project. She is coordinating the identification and on-site interview of subjects for a documentary about long-time residents along the Missouri River and what it was like to live with a wild and unpredictable river before the dams were put in place.

Mark Sweeney, Ph.D., Department of Earth Sciences, has expertise in loess research and is conducting a research project on the origin of loess in southeast South Dakota and what it says about the paleoclimatology of the region since the last glaciation. He is also involved in research related to Missouri River geomorphology. He is conducting research on Missouri River-James River interactions. This research involves a USD undergraduate student mapping out paleochannels of the Missouri and James rivers. These rivers are dynamic and have changed significantly over the past few hundred years. The smaller James River has taken advantage of old Missouri River channels. Sediment from these rivers are being analyzed so that they can be differentiated in core.

Cathy Ezrailson, Ph.D., School of Education, has teaching interests in science education (physics education), curriculum, strategies and methodologies for teaching science, and teaching with technology. Her research interests include teaching science with technology by setting and meeting standards and best practices in science teaching, science digital libraries and their function in 21st century education, and safety in the science lab.

Meghann Jarchow, Ph.D., is the coordinator of the Sustainability Program, and her research interests include prairie ecology, multifunctional agricultural systems, and pedagogy of sustainability.  Her current research includes examination of how different prairie management techniques affect plant community composition in restored and reconstructed prairies, comparisons of prairie and corn systems managed for bioenergy production, and development and testing of the efficacy of video games for teaching sustainability-related topics.