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Don Nelson

UGA Arch
Graduate Coordinator

I didn’t always plan to be an anthropologist. However, during an undergrad anthropology course I realized that the field of anthropology would provide an excellent arena to pursue my innate curiosity about the diversity of people and their interactions with each other and their environments. My goal as an anthropologist is to pursue research that is intellectually challenging and that enhances our abilities to resolve complex social and environmental issues. My intellectual interests span scales that include individual households, communities, watersheds, regions, and nations. I also am an ardent believer in an interdisciplinary approach to framing and exploring research questions.

In my professional life I have worked extensively in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a particular focus in Northeast Brazil and the Brazilian Amazon. I have also been involved with work in Africa including the countries of Mozambique, Angola, and The Comoros. I use a range of participatory methodologies as well as quantitative tools in my research, which include GIS and remote sensing. I have current research projects focused on water security, disaster risk, socioenvironmental system dynamics, and participatory planning in Brazil, Uruguay, and the U.S. 

Prospective graduate students:

I welcome mentoring new students that are interested in the interactions between humans and environmental change. Please visit my HECLab website (see sidebar) to see what current students are working on. While we address a range of topics in the lab, all students have a clear research vision, are self-motivated, and have a real desire to contribute to making the world a better place. If you are interested in joining the lab, please email me a current CV and a brief description (up to 500 words) of your research interests. 

Research Interests:
  • Water security
  • Water management 
  • Land-use 
  • Global climate and environmental change 
  • Sustainability 
  • Socioenvironmental (SES) research 
  • Remote sensing  
  • Drought vulnerability 
Selected Publications:

Seigerman, C.K., S.K. McKay, R. Basilio, Biesel, S.A., J. Hallemeier, A.V. Mansur, C. Piercy, S. Rowan, B. Ubiali, E. Yeates, and D.R. Nelson, 2022. Operationalizing equity for integrated water resources management. JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association.

Ordway, E., A. Elmore, D.R. Nelson…. 2021. Leveraging the NEON Airborne Observation Platform for socio-environmental systems research. Ecosphere 126. doi/10.1002/ecs2.3640.

Nelson, D.R., B. Bledsoe, S. Ferreira, and N. Nibbelink. 2020. The Potential of Nature-based Solutions for water sustainability. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability.45:49-55.

De Azevedo Reis, G., F.A. de Souza Filho, D.R. Nelson, R.V. Rocha and S.M.O. da Silva (2020). Development of a vulnerability to drought index using MCDM and GIS. Natural Disasters.

Nelson, D.R., Bledsoe, B., and M Shepherd. 2020. From hubris to humility: Transcending original sin in managing hydroclimate risk management. Anthropocene.

Chin, A., X. Cui, L. Gillson, D.R. Nelson, M. P. Taylor, V. Vanacker and E. Wang (2020). "Anthropocene in an age of pandemics." Anthropocene.

King, E., Nelson, D.R., and J.R. McGreevy. 2019. Advancing the integration of ecosystem services and livelihood adaptation. Environmental Research Letters.

Coughlan, M and D.R. Nelson. 2019. Geostatistical analysis of historical contingency and land use footprints in the prehistoric settlement dynamics of the South Carolina Piedmont, North America. Journal of Archaeological Science 107:1-9.

Unks, R., King, E., Nelson, D.R., Wachira, N.P., and L. German. 2019. Constraints, multiple stressors, and stratified adaptation: pastoralist livelihood vulnerability in a semi-arid wildlife conservation context in Central Kenya. Global Environmental Change. 54:124-134.

Unks, R., King, E., German, L. Wachira, N.P., and D.R. Nelson. 2019. Unevenness in scale mismatches: institutional change and pastoralist livelihoods in Laikipia, Kenya. Geoforum. 99:74-87.

Maione, C., Nelson, D.R., and R.M. Barbosa. 2019. Research on social data by means of cluster analysis. Applied Computing and Informatics. 15(2):153-162. doi:10.1016/j.aci.2018.02.003

Coughlan, M., and D.R. Nelson. 2018. Legacy effects of prehistoric Native American niche construction on Euro-American settlement in the South Carolina Piedmont. PLOS ONE. 13(3): e0195036.

Delaney, A., T. Evans, J. McGreevy, J. Blekking, T. Schlachter, K. Korhonen-Kurki, P. A. Tamás, T. A. Crane, H. Eakin, W. Förch, L. Jones, D.R. Nelson, C. Oberlack, and M. Purdon. 2018. Governance of food systems across scales in times of social-ecological change: a review of indicators." Food Security 10(2): 287-310.




Current funded work: 


2023 – 2027        National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Incorporating Principles of Environmental Justice into Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations, a Climate and Flood Adaptation Strategy.” Co-Principal Investigator.

2023 – 2024        U.S. Department of Army. “Proposal to Expand the Applied Research Capacities of the Engineering with Nature Regional Engagement Network for Military Installations and Surrounding Communities.” Co-Principal Investigator.

2022 – 2023        Office of Research, Faculty Seed Grants in the Sciences. “Collaborative and Diverse, but Equitable? A Development of Stakeholder-Informed Lexicons to Systematically Detect Inequity in Decision-Making Processes.” Co-Principal Investigator.

2021 – 2026        National Science Foundation. "Landscape Exchange Network for Socio-environmental systems." Co-Principal Investigator.

2020 – 2024        United States Army Corp of Engineers. "Engineering with Nature Regional Proving Ground in the Southeastern US." Co-Principal Investigator.


PhD, Anthropology (with minor in Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis), University of Arizona, 2005

Articles Featuring Don Nelson

This week, we witnessed some incredible research projects from Dr. Don Nelson's Art and Science of Asking Questions class. Students presented posters illustrating topics about the human condition, within and between cultures! See more images from the…

Congratulations to Dr. Don Nelson on receiving a grant from the National Science Foundation for project titled, "Landscape Exchange Network for Socio-environmental systems (LENS)!" Dr.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the University of Georgia (UGA) recently announced a partnership that connects the interdisciplinary expertise of UGA’s Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems (IRIS), with the vast on-the-ground experience of…

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