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Student-Faculty Pair to Publish Research in Journal Ecosphere

Photo of bug and pond enclosures. A molt of a common green darner dragonfly rests on a pole at the research site in Lemont, Illinois.

VERMILLION, S.D. – A University of South Dakota Department of Biology professor and his recently defended Ph.D. student will publish research on how habitat structure can influence biodiversity in other environments in the journal Ecosphere.

Biology professor Daniel Soluk, Ph.D., and his then student, Kristopher Pitcher, Ph.D., now an adjunct professor of biology at USD, studied how plant structure within ponds can alter how fish impact the size at which aquatic insects emerge into the terrestrial environment potentially having a cascading influence on spiders, frogs and birds that depend on these insects for food.

Over the course of two years, the pair used pond enclosures to manipulate the presence of fish and the distance between patches of plants. They then compared the size of the adult insects that emerged from the enclosures.

"We found that with fish present, shorter distances between plant patches increased the size of emerging damselflies,” Pitcher said.

Pitcher continued that the results confirmed their understanding of how plants and habitat structure can influence predator and prey. What was unique in their research is showing how those relationships connect and influence other environments.

"As ecologists, we already knew that plants, and habitat structure in general, can influence how predators and prey interact. What our study shows is that the influence of habitat structure on predator-prey interactions can cascade from one habitat type into another by altering the size at which aquatic insects emerge into the terrestrial environment,” he said.

The research was conducted in two natural ponds located at the Illinois Dragonfly Research Center in Lemont, Illinois, which was made available by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.


USD's College of Arts & Sciences offers students a top-notch undergraduate liberal arts education in the humanities, social sciences and sciences as well as graduate programs that have earned USD distinction as a research university by the Carnegie Foundation. The college's more than 22,000 alumni include famous journalists, Hollywood screenwriters, novelists, a Nobel Prize winner, South Dakota governors, attorneys, physicians, justices of the state Supreme Court, distinguished university faculty and international humanitarians.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 84 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Hanna DeLange
USD News