Jun 24, 2024  
2021-2022 Graduate Catalog 
2021-2022 Graduate Catalog [Archived Catalog]

Biology Department

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Chairperson: Jacob L. Kerby, Ph.D.
Graduate Program Director: Cliff H. Summers, Ph.D. 

Department of Biology
Churchill-Haines, Room 191
414 East Clark Street
Vermillion, SD 57069
Phone: 605-658-6700




Hugh B. Britten, Ph.D., Montana State University. Specializations: Population Genetics, Evolution, and Conservation Biology.
Mark D. Dixon, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison. Specializations: Landscape and Community Ecology, Plant Ecology, Riparian Systems.
Karen L. Koster, Ph.D., Cornell University. Specializations: Plant Physiology, Cell Biology, and Environmental Stress Tolerance in Plants.
Jacob L. Kerby, Ph.D., University of California-Davis. Specializations: Ecotoxicology, Conservation Biology, and Behavioral Ecology.
Daniel A. Soluk, Ph.D., University of Toronto-Ontario, Canada. Specializations: Aquatic Ecology, Conservation Biology, and Endangered Species.
Cliff H. Summers, Ph.D., University of Colorado. Specializations: Behavioral Neuroscience, Neuroendocrinology, Reproductive Biology, and Vertebrate Stress Physiology.
David L. Swanson, Ph.D., Oregon State University. Specializations: Physiological Ecology of Vertebrates, Ornithology, and Vertebrate Cold Adaptation.

Associate Professor:

Jeff Wesner, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma. Specializations: Food Webs, Aquatic Ecology, Community and Ecosystem Ecology, Ecotoxicology.
Bernard Wone, Ph.D., University of Nevada. Specializations: Metabolism, Aging, Metabolomics, Functional Genomics, Abiotic Stress, and Biostatistics.

Assistant Professors:

Christopher V. Anderson, Ph.D., University of South Florida. Specializations: Functional Morphology, Biomechanics, Muscle Physiology, and Physiological Ecology.
Yohaan Fernandes, Ph.D., University of Toronto. 
Ranjeet John, Ph.D., University of Toledo. Specializations: Landscape and Ecosystem Ecology, Biogeography, Ecological Modeling, Remote Sensing.
Andrea L. Liebl, Ph.D., University of South Florida. Specializations: Ecological Physiology, Stress Physiology, Ecological Epigenetics, Animal Behavior, Cooperation.


Lynn Riley, Ph.D., University of South Dakota. Specializations: Population and Conservation Genetics and Phylogeography. 

Emeritus Professor:

         Kaius Helenurm, Ph.D., Washington University-St. Louis. Specializations: Plant Conservation Genetics and Plant Evolution on Islands.
         Paula M. Mabee, Ph.D., Duke University. Specializations: Bioinformatics, and Fish Evolution and Development.
         Kenneth J. Renner, Ph.D., University of Kansas. Specializations: Neuroendocrinology and Reproductive Physiology


Master of Science in Biology   
Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences   


Conservation and Biodiversity (M.S.)
Integrative Biology (Ph.D.)
Neuroscience (Ph.D.)

Program Description

The University of South Dakota’s Department of Biology is one of the largest departments in the College of Arts & Sciences and employs fifteen full-time, tenured (or tenure-track) faculty. The research interests of the faculty (see above) encompass the areas of aquatic and terrestrial ecology, conservation biology, sustainability, ecotoxicology, plant and animal physiology, molecular biology, neuroscience, cell biology, developmental biology, genetics, and evolution. Particular strengths of the department are conservation biology, environmental stress physiology, neuroscience, and population and evolutionary biology. The Biology faculty collaborates with faculty in the Sanford School of Medicine, the USD Missouri River Institute, the USD Sustainability Program, and at South Dakota State University as well as with other institutions nationally and internationally. For information about the department, the faculty, and graduate programs, please consult www.usd.edu/arts-and-sciences/biology/graduate.cfm.

The M.S. program in Biology is recommended for students with professional goals in biology, such as continuing graduate education; working for a federal agency, state agency, or non-governmental organization; securing employment in industry; or teaching in secondary and higher education. The M.S. Plan A degree requires a thesis. The M.S. Plan B and Accelerated M.S. do not. The Ph.D. in Biological Sciences is intended for students who are interested in careers in research and/or academia.

WICHE Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP) eligible program. 


  1. Completed Graduate Application form found at: https://www.usd.edu/graduate-school/apply-now and a non-refundable application fee of $35.
  2. Official transcript(s) verifying receipt of an undergraduate degree and previous graduate credit (in English or with translation) must accompany an application. For students applying to the Accelerated M.S. program, the transcripts should verify at least 90 earned credits toward an undergraduate degree at the time of acceptance. Official transcripts of all academic work at the undergraduate and graduate levels are required for all applicants. The USD Graduate School and/or academic units retain the right to require credential evaluations from organizations, such as Educational Credential Evaluators/World Education Services (ECE/WES), for a student if such an evaluation is deemed necessary.
  3. Baccalaureate degree or an equivalent degree from an institution with Institutional accreditation for that degree. A minimum undergraduate cumulative GPA of 3.0 on conferred degree and/or graduate cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better, based on a 4.0 scale, on all graduate coursework is required for full admission. Each graduate program may admit students on provisional status per university policy.
  4. Applicants with degrees from countries other than the United States who have obtained an undergraduate or graduate degree from an institutionally accredited American college or university or from an accredited institution in the following English-speaking countries: United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Canada (Excluding Quebec), Australia, and New Zealand are not required to submit an approved English proficiency exam score. For all other applicants, a minimum score of 79 on the Internet-Based TOEFL (iBT) or 550 on the Paper-Based TOEFL (PBT), a minimum IELTS Academic score of 6.0, or a minimum PTE score of 53 is required for graduate admission. 
  5. Applicants are required to submit a statement of purpose.

Additional Program Admission Requirements:

  1. The GRE General test is required for those seeking the M.S. (Plan A or B) and Ph.D. in Biology but is not required for applicants to the Accelerated M.S. Program. Although there is no formal minimum score required for admission, a 40th percentile score or better in the verbal and quantitative sections of the test is recommended. The GRE score is considered along with the other application materials for admission decisions. *GRE is temporarily not required for admission through spring 2023.
  2. Three (3) professional letters of recommendation are required.
  3. Applicants should have a minimum of the undergraduate equivalent of the Biology core curriculum.
  4. Reach out to possible research mentors in the Biology department to discuss your research interests. Identify the possible mentor on your admission application.

Subject to faculty approval, those who do not meet all of the criteria above may be admitted on a provisional basis.

Application Deadlines

  • Fall 2021 Start
    • Priority Deadline: January 15
    • Final Deadline: two weeks before the start of the semester
  • Spring 2022 Start
    • Final Deadline: two weeks before the start of the semester
  • Fall 2022 Start
    • Priority Deadline: January 15
    • Final Deadline: May 31

Library and Research Facilities

A large collection of biological periodicals, government documents and other publications are available in the University Libraries (I.D. Weeks Library and the Lommen Health Sciences Library). Online journals, database searches, electronic document delivery, and interlibrary loans are also available.

Other facilities include laboratories for faculty and graduate students, a greenhouse, environmentally controlled growth chambers, controlled environment animal quarters, a histology facility, cold rooms, aquarium rooms, an aquatic mesocosm facility, wet and dry collection rooms, molecular biology core facility, and a shop. Close by, there are numerous aquatic and terrestrial habitats for field study, including native tallgrass prairie habitat, riparian forests, wetlands, and the Missouri River. The Missouri River Institute (www.usd.edu/mri) on campus provides a focal point for scholarly activity, education, and outreach pertaining to all aspects of the Missouri River Basin.

Student Learning Outcomes for Biology (M.S.)

  1. Students will demonstrate their understanding and ability to evaluate background knowledge of the field. 
  2. Students will demonstrate competency in designing, conducting, and interpreting research. 
  3. Students will demonstrate competency in scientific writing. 
  4. Students will demonstrate competency in presentation of scientific information.

Student Learning Outcomes for Biological Sciences (Ph.D.)

  1. Students will demonstrate competency in designing, conducting, and interpreting research. 
  2. Students will demonstrate thorough background knowledge of the field. 
  3. Students will demonstrate thorough background knowledge of the field. 
  4. Students will demonstrate competency in presentation of scientific information.


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