Dr. Michael O. Rischbieter

Professor of Biology
Pre-Pharmacy Advisor

Enjoying a fossil plant moment  in Alabama!

Dr. R enjoying a fossil plant moment in Alabama!

Contact Information
106 Lassiter Hall
(864) 833-8403 (office)
(800) 476-7272 (switchboard)

B.S., University of Washington (Botany)
M.S., Western Illinois University (Biology)
Ph.D., University of South Carolina (Geology)

Kaitlyn Dr.R and Caitlin in the Badlands during a Summer Fellows research field trip.

Kaitlyn, Dr.R and Caitlin in the Badlands during a Summer Fellows research field trip.

My Research Interests

Paleoecology of Carboniferous Coal Swamp floras in the midwestern and southeastern USA.
Palynology of the Pleistocene of South Carolina.
Biostratigraphy of Eocene/Oligocene mammals of the badlands near Douglas, Wyoming.

Courses I Teach

Biological Concepts (Biology 105–Fall)
Organismal Biology (Biology 112–Spring)
Evolution (Biology 212–Spring Semester)
Biogeography (Biology 207–Alternate Fall Semesters)
Paleontology (Biology 320–Alternate Fall Semesters)
Botany (Biology 203–Spring Semester)
Plant Systematics (Biology 206–Fall Semester)
Flexicourses (Maymester)

Paleobiology of the Southeastern U.S: this was a Maymester course I ran quite a few years back where we spent 3 weeks surveying many of the classic fossil localities in the Southeast. A pdf overview of the course can be found at this link:

Collecting belemnites near Florence, SC

Collecting belemnites near Florence, SC


My primary focus at this point is to involve students in the research process. My particular area of interest has been the Carboniferous paleoflora of the southeast. I have been actively collecting fossils from Virginia south through Georgia and west to Alabama. With student help, I have been attempting to reconstruct the change in plant communities in the southeast through geologic time. Along the way, students have been learning how to curate and maintain a paleobotanical collection, and how to manage a fossil database.

This past year, I was exceptionally lucky to stumble upon an amazing private collection of plant fossils while in Birmingham, Alabama, now called “The John Cooke Collection”. I have been actively involved over the past several months in  getting the material curated, and have transported part of the collection to the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, where these fossils will be used for research and display. The story of the Cooke Collection was recently described in this article at AL.com: The John Cooke Collection Story

Another exciting line of research biology students and I have been involved in is the study of the palynology of the 450,000 year old Pleistocene deposits from Harleyville, South Carolina. Three Honors Projects (Delaney and Hayne [2004], and Beaty [2005], and Sheppard [2006]) have focused on the environmental interpretation made possible by the extensive palynoflora present in these sediments. In an interesting twist on this research, I decided to test the working hypothesis of these paleoecosystem reconstructions by having students work on a modern pond ecosystem to see if the pollen and spores that were being deposited in the sediments of the pond reflected accurately the plants growing adjacent to the pond. Three Honor’s Research projects were the result of this idea: Carly Eargle (see Carly Eargle’s Abstract for her presentation at the CUR 2009 Poster’s on the Hill Symposium here: CUR Abstract), and Heather Hawkins [2008] worked on the palynology, and Nicholas Blake [2008] worked on the plant component of the surrounding pond environment.

Over the last four years, I have also been pursuing, along with a number of students, another line of research that centers around the Eocene and Oligocene mammals of the Badlands of Wyoming. I had the opportunity in 2007 to attend the TATE Conference in Casper, Wyoming, where I met Dr. Kent Sundell of Capser College. He leases approximately 10,000 acres of land near Douglas, Wyoming, which is right in the heart of the Badlands. The ‘badlands” are amazing topographic features that result from the actions of modern erosional forces cutting the mudstones deposited by the ancient Platte River, and is loaded with fossils, including oreodonts, horses, camels, nimravid “cats”, the huge suidArchaeotherium , and a myriad of smaller rodents. I returned with Dr. Inman and eight PC students in May 2008, and we spent several days collecting fossils in an untouched corner of Kent’s land which is controlled by the Bureau of Land Management (I had obtained a permit to do this!). Many of these fossils, encased in their mudstone tomb, are now being worked by students at PC. Allison Serdah completed a Honor’s project in 2008. Nick Plaisted also learned the techniques associated with preparing these fossils. More recently (2011), James Wilson completed a semester-long Internship learning how to use the airscribe to free fossils from the matrix. The ability to use the airscribe requiring fine-touch motor skills was especially useful to James in his aspirations of becoming a dentist after his 4 years at PC. Learn more

James Wilson using an airscribe to clean an Oligocene oreodont skull.

James Wilson using an airscribe to clean an Oligocene oreodont skull.

One other really interesting line of research that I began with Becca Miller two years ago, and will  be continuing with Sydney Fontenot in the Fall of 2015 is the use of tree-ring analysis in understanding the nature of climate variability throughout the Pleistocene and Holocene Epochs. I am following the same approach as I did with the pollen and spore proxy data; we have been and will continue to take core samples from local trees to see if the tree ring measurements match the rainfall and temperature patterns recorded for this area. One interesting outcome of this research came from a pine tree I took a core from right next to Neville Hall. This tree turned out to be over 150 years old…predating the actual opening of Presbyterian College!!

Student Research (* Honors Research)

2015. Lauren Berkey*. Analysis of tooth-wear patterns in the Merycoidodontoidea from the Oligocene of Wyoming and Nebraska.

2014-15. Billy Joe Mullinax*. A study of the megaflora and palynoflora from the lower Permian of southeastern Brazil.

2014. Cassie Walker. The effect of drought conditions on complex information exchange in air and soil media of Phaseolus lunatus.Summer Fellows Research project.

2013. Becca Miller*. Testing the accuracy of dendroclimatology in a mixed deciduous-pine ecosystem in South Carolina.

2012. Caitlin Basnight*. Analysis of the paleodiet of 2 Oligocene-aged mammals of the White River Badlands using tooth striation microanalysis techniques.

2011. Caitlin Basnight. Reconstructing the paleoenvironment of the White River Formation of Wyoming based on the dentition of Oligocene-aged mammals. Summer Fellows Research project.

2011. Kaitlyn O’Gorman. Paleopathology of an Oligocene-aged camel jaw from the White River Formation of Wyoming. Summer Fellows Research project.

2011. Meghan Skinner*. Effects of CO2 on stomata density in Arabidopsis thaliana.

2010. Claire Hann. SEM and light microscopic analysis of the pollen and spores of the Young Pond depositional environment.

2009. Nick Plaisted. Techniques in fossil preparation.

2008. Nicholas Blake*. An ecological study of the relative density and relative dominance of the trees and understory plants contributing to the pollen rains in the pond sedimentary basins in and around Clinton SC.

2008. Carly Eargle*. An analysis of the pollen and spores contributing to the pond sediments in and around Clinton SC: light microscopy.

2008. Heather Hawkins*. An analysis of the pollen and spores contributing to the pond sediments in and around Clinton SC: electron microscopy.

2008. Allison Serdah*. The use of a modified air abrasion technique to analyze the structures used in the cladistic analysis of two Oligocene oreodonts.

2007. Sarah Cash*. A microfaunal analysis of the late Middle Pliocene Walrus Ditch Locality near Summerville, South Carolina.

2006. Danielle Gill*. Are the dinoflagellates of the Camelot Locality Eocene contamination or signs of a sea-level change in the Pleistocene?

Publications & Articles

Michael T. Dunn, Prescott Atkinson, James Lacefield, and Michael Rischbieter, 2012. Winslowia tuscumbiana gen. et sp. nov. (Chaloneriaceae): A Cormose, Heterosporous, Ligulate Lycopsid Reconstructed from the Inside Out from the Pride Mountain Formation (Late Mississippian/Serpukhovian) of Northern Alabama. Int. J. Plant Sci. 173(1):96–111. Winslowia

Carly Eargle and Michael O. Rischbieter, 2009. “An Analysis of the Pollen Profiles in Pond Deposition Basins and Associated Plant Community Structure in Young’s Pond, Clinton, SC”. Council of Undergraduate Research “Posters on the Hill” Abstract.

Eargle, C and M.O. Rischbieter, 2009. An analysis of the pollen and spores contributing to the pond sediments in and around Clinton SC . BigSURS Undergraduate Research Symposium Abstracts. UNC-Asheville.

Cash, S. and M.O. Rischbieter, 2007. A Microfaunal Analysis of the Walrus Ditch Locality. BigSURS Undergraduate Research Symposium Abstracts. Coastal Carolina University.

Rischbieter, M.O., Carpenter, J.R., and Saunders, O., 1996. Life Science Source Book: A guide to Life Science Activities, Vol. 1: Ecology. Center for Science Education, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.

Rischbieter, M.O., Ryan, J.M., and Carpenter, J.R., 1993. “Use of microethnographic strategies to analyze some affective aspects of learning-cycle-based minicourses in paleontology for teachers.” Journal of Geological Education, v. 41, p. 208-218.

Rischbieter, M.O., and Stidd, B.M., 1985. Anatomically and morphologically preserved Linopteris obliqua Bunbury from the Herrin No. 6 Coal of Sokuthern Illinois. Amer. J. Bot. Abstr., 72 (6): 899.

Stidd, B.M., Rischbieter, M.O., and Phillips, T.L., 1985. “A new lyginopterid pollen organ with alveolate pollen exines.” Amer. J. Bot., 72 (4): 501-508.

Rischbieter, M.O., Stidd, B.M., and Phillips, T.L., 1984. “A new seed fern pollen organ from the Pennsylvanian of Kentucky,” Amer. J. Bot. Abstr., 71(5/2):77.

DiMichele, W.A., Rischbieter, M.O., Eggert, D.L., Gastaldo, R.A., 1984. “Stem and leaf cuticle of Karinopteris: source of cuticles from the Indiana ‘paper’ coal,” Amer. J. Bot., 71(5): 626-637.