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College of Arts and Sciences

Faculty and Staff

Patricia DeCoursey

Title: Arboretum Director
Department: Biological Sciences
College of Arts and Sciences
Phone: 803-777-3934
Office: Sumwalt, Room 351
Resources: Department of Biological Sciences
Pat DeCoursey


Dr. DeCoursey's research centers on chronobiology (biology rhythms), the study of internal timing mechanisms for animal rhythms related to environmental cycles such as tidal cycles, daily solar cycles, or annual cycles. Neural pacemakers or "living clocks" impart an adaptive time structure to organisms through the synchronization of the internal neural timing component with environmental time by specific synchronizing agents especially the solar day-night cycle. Dr. Decoursey's research emphasizes the physiological, behavioral, and ecological aspects of mammalian daily (circadian) rhythmicity. Physiological studies have included retinal function relative to animal circadian rhythms, as well as the transplantation of neural circadian pacemakers in rodents. Ecological and behavioral studies have addressed the adaptive value of circadian clocks. Can free-living wild species of rodents such as chipmunks, antelope squirrels, or golden-mantled squirrels survive in natural habitat without their neural circadian pacemaker? What impact does the deletion of the pacemaker have on time-dependent functions such as hibernation of ground squirrels? These questions are being addressed by means of state-of-the-art radio-telemetry and implanted micro data-loggers for tracking survival and behavior of ground squirrel in wilderness habitat over their lifetimes.  These rodents serve as vital experimental models since they mirror in close detail the human circadian system.  Experimental studies of rodent biological clocks hold out hope for understanding and correcting human chronobiological dysfunctions such as jet lag, shift worker sleep problems, and insomnia of the elderly.

Since 2006 Dr. DeCoursey has also served as the Director of the W. Gordon Belser Arboretum.  This ten-acre woodland property, located in metropolitan Columbia, SC serves as an auxilliary outdoor teaching facility for many environmental classes at the Universitiy of South Carolina.   The Arboretum's mission is to preserve a pristine urban forest, to provide facilities for teaching environmental courses for USC students, and to serve as a neighborhood outreach station for sustainable environmental initiatives. An Open House for the General Public is held on the 3rd Sunday of each month from 1 to 4 pm.

The topographical dirversity of the site with its deep central valley and fossil sand dunes has allowed restoration of ten biomes (plant communities), which illustrate basic ecological principals and allow "hands-on" experience.  These plant community habitats include an Eastern wiregrass prairie, a pine forest, a bottomland hardwood forest, a wetland, a stream bank community, a cypress swamp, a blight resistant American chestnut forest, and a beech hardwood forest, as well as a botanical garden exhibit, and a waterfall exhibit.  Facilities include an outdoor classroom, a mile-long trail with self guiding signs and many other exibits.  Classes and other visitor groups should reserve a date and specific facilities in advance with Dr. DeCoursey.


DeCoursey, P.J.. 2004. Diversity of function of SCN pacemakers in behavior and ecology of 3 species of sciurid rodents. Biological Rhythms Research. 35(1/2): 13-33. Andrews Experimental Forest Letter

DeCoursey, P.J.. 2004. The role of the suprachiasmatic pacemaker (SCN) in energy expenditure durning hibernation of golden-mantled ground squirrels. Life in the Cold. 371-378. Andrews Experimental Forest Letter

DeCoursey, P.J.. 2003. Chronobiology: Biological Timekeeping. Sinauer Associates Inc. Chapters 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11.

DeCoursey, P.J.. 2014. Survival value of the Suprachiasmatic Nuclei (SCN) in four wild sciurid rodents.  Behavioral Neuroscience, 128: 240-249.