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Research

The Climate Change Studies Program offered a competitive grants program through a USDA Higher Education Challenge grant to fund student independent research projects. Future funding is pending. Read about past student research projects:

Katie ArledgeKatie Arledge: Assessing the Relative Importance of Radial Growth and Resin Duct Density in Ponderosa Pine Resistance to Bark Beetle Attack - Senior, Ecology and Organismal Biology, 2013
Environmental changes resulting from climate change have the potential to alter the frequency, severity, and duration of bark beetle attacks. These attacks, in turn, can have huge implications for conifers and the ecosystems they inhabit. The mechanisms underlying conifer resistance to and defense against bark beetle attacks are poorly understood. This project attempted to address bark beetle resistance in ponderosa pine. Pairs of attacked and unattacked trees of similar DBH and in close proximity to one another were cored and these cores were analyzed to assess annual growth rates and resin duct density. Resin ducts are ducts from which pines exude resin, which may help them to resist beetle attack. Growth rates and resin duct density between attacked and unattacked trees were compared to assess whether or not these factors affect resistance to beetle attack. Growth and resin duct density were also compared to climate data to assess the impact of climatic factors on investment in radial growth and defense. Developing a deeper understanding of how climate influences growth and resin duct density has the potential to help us understand how resistant future ponderosa pine stands may be to bark beetle attacks with climate change. Katie's Research Proposal (pdf) Katie's Research Summary (pdf)

Zach HoylmanZach Hoylman: Landscape Heterogeneity Modulates Forest Sensitivity to Climate - Senior, International Field Geosciences, 2013
At higher elevations in the Rocky Mountains, snowmelt strongly influences the magnitude and timing of net ecosystem productivity. Throughout the western U.S., increased spring temperatures, declining snowpack, and earlier snowmelt have been observed over multiple decades. These trends have been correlated with decreased water availability and coniferous forest productivity and concurrent increases in forest wildfire activity and tree mortality. This project assessed how landscape scale lateral water redistribution patterns influence the persistence of soil water during the growing season and subsequently tree biomass accumulation. To evaluate this hypothesis we collected an extensive survey of tree cores (~500) from four coniferous tree species across a range of elevations, aspects, and topographic positions in the Lubrecht Experimental Forest, MT. We compared the rate of annual tree growth to annual precipitation (rain and snow) across a 60-year data record and a suite of topographic indices derived from a 1m LIDAR digital elevation model. Understanding the influence of climate change on our forests is essential to the proper management of a limited natural resource. Zach's Research Proposal (pdf) Zach's Research Summary (pdf)

Cody Rasmussen IveyCody Rasmussen-Ivey: The Effect of the Mountain Pine Beetle On Allochthonous Input In High Elevation Watersheds - Wildlife Biology, 2013
In western Montana, both average and extreme temperatures are increasing at two to three times the global average, often forcing a shift in productivity. This summer research project focused on elucidating the mechanisms that drive these shifts in aquatic systems, relative to the expanding range of mountain pine beetle. When mountain pine beetles attack a stand, antimicrobial compounds are elevated that are retained in pine needles long after being shed. In fact, when these needles enter the stream, bacterial and fungal species are unable to use this organic matter as a food source for over a month. Having quantified the difference in primary and secondary productivity through a growth experiment that selected on degree of mountain pine beetle presence/absence, the results of this project increase the efficacy of resource conservation by attributing the observed reaction with the causative agent. Cody's Research Proposal (pdf) Cody's Research Report (pdf)

Todd BlytheTodd Blythe:  Sensitivity Analysis of Changing Climate on the Thermal Gradient of Streams - Senior, Resource Conservation/Restoration Ecology, 2012
Climate change has the potential to alter biogeochemical cycles and biological communities in aquatic habitats. Anthropogenic contributions can accelerate these changes to an unnatural rate, which does not allow organisms to adapt or acclimate. Thus, it is important to understand how a stream reacts to climatic changes over a short time period in order to mitigate any harmful effects. This project sought to analyze and project a stream’s sensitivity to various scenarios of induced climate change (particularly a warming climate). This is particularly important in semi-arid areas of the Western United States (i.e. states like Montana) where rivers and streams provide important natural resources and are cherished by residents and tourists. Todd's Research Proposal (pdf) Todd's Research Summary (pdf)

Tracy WendtTracy Wendt: Fluvial Westslope Cutthroat Trout Movements and Restoration of Thermal Habitats - Senior, Resource Conservation and Restoration Ecology, 2012
Across the intermontane west, climate change is predicted to affect the distribution and abundance of salmonids by elevating water temperatures, leading to habitat loss and fragmentation. Westslope cutthroat trout (WSCT) are particularly vulnerable to changes in water temperature, and cannot tolerate water temperatures above 13-15oC (Bear et al. 2007).  The intent of this project was to evaluate the utility of restoration techniques in mitigating some of the known or anticipated effects of a changing climate on habitat usage of this species of concern. The specific objective of this study was to determine whether or not restoration efforts on Nevada, Grantier, and associated creeks have had an effect on the use of different habitats by monitoring movement and habitat usage of native WSCT. Telemetry relocations of WSCT, water temperature, and discharge data were collected and analyzed to evaluate the effects of restoration efforts on WSCT migratory life history and size of home range. Tracy's Research Proposal (pdf) Tracy's Research Summary (pdf)

Matt DunkleMatt DunkleThe Effects of Mountain Pine Beetle Induced Forest Mortality on Headwater Aquatic Macroinvertebrate Communities - Senior, Environmental Studies and Wildland Restoration majors, Wilderness Studies minor, 2011
This project will assess the response of headwater stream insect communities to changes in whitebark pine duff brought on by climate change and mountain pine beetle invasion. In the case of whitebark pine mortality, it is likely that large pulses of litter with drastically different chemical make-ups are entering stream communities at the lowest level of the food web, which may be fundamentally altering the structure and function of those ecosystems. This study will fill a current gap in our understanding of this outbreak through the assessment of relationship between aquatic insect communities and mountain pine beetle invasion through the decomposition and processing of whitebark pine leaf litter. Matt's Reserach Proposal (pdf)

Brian FauverBrian FauverUsing Citizen Science to Monitor Impacts of Climate Change on Forest Ecosystems  - Senior, Resource Conservation major, Wilderness Studies minor
This project will assess the efficacy of citizen scientists for monitoring forest ecosystem responses to disturbances. Understanding the extent to which citizens can be used to effectively monitor ecological change will be critical for developing programs to monitor ecosystem responses to climate change as well as interventions designed to mitigate climate change effects. To date, no one has evaluated the efficacy of using citizens to monitor invasive weeds or fuels, key variables for understanding change in forest ecosystems. This project will assess the reliability of data collected by citizen scientists in projects areas that are a part of the Southwest Crown of the Continent (SWCC) Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP). Brian's Research Proposal (pdf)