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Missouri River Institute Faculty to Study Biodiversity of Local Island and Aquatic-Terrestrial Subsidies

A view of Goat Island from above. The island is lush with green trees. The Missouri River flows around the island. USD faculty members associated with the Missouri River Institute will conduct research on Goat Island. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

VERMILLION, S.D. – Several University of South Dakota faculty members associated with the Missouri River Institute (MRI) are part of a new $30,000 grant funded by the National Park Service to study the biodiversity of Goat Island and aquatic-terrestrial subsidies.

“This research grant will continue to build a collaborative partnership between the Missouri River Institute at USD and the National Park Service’s Missouri National Recreation River, which will benefit Missouri River research and management, as well as student opportunities at USD, in the future,” said David Swanson, Ph.D., MRI director of research and professor of biology.

The first project funded by the grant will study plant and animal biodiversity on Goat Island, a newly acquired property of the Missouri National Recreational River (MNRR). Goat Island is a 3.6 mile-long, 800-acre island west of Vermillion. Biodiversity surveys for the project will focus on terrestrial vegetation, aquatic macro-invertebrates, fish, amphibians and birds on the Goat Island property.

“Information gained from these surveys will serve as a baseline for future adaptive management efforts and restoration projects on Goat Island, other MNRR properties and elsewhere on the Missouri River,” said Swanson.

The second project will study the importance of energy flow from aquatic to terrestrial communities along the Missouri River. Adult aquatic insects represent an important dietary subsidy for birds of riparian forest habitats. The importance of aquatic insects to diets of riparian forest birds depends not only on the quantity of insects available, but also on the quality of insects.

For this project, MRI faculty and students will monitor insect emergence at several backwater and side-channel sites along the MNRR, including study sites at Goat Island, collect terrestrial arthropod samples by standard techniques and collect blood samples from birds captured by mist net at these same sites.

“Given the decline in side-channel and backwater habitats along the Missouri River, which are important sources of aquatic insect emergence, an analysis of the importance of such insects to riparian bird diets is an important element for conservation and management of both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in the MNRR,” Swanson said.

The student field technicians in the two projects will collect and analyze data with the assistance of graduate students and MRI faculty members Swanson, Jeff Wesner, Ph.D., and Mark Dixon, Ph.D. Students will learn concepts in biodiversity, physiology, life-history, botany, entomology, herpetology, ornithology, food webs and ecosystem ecology.


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Hanna DeLange
USD News