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Researchers Tackle Projects in Yellowstone National Park


Here is a list of Montana State University researchers who are conducting studies in Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone wildlife

Scott Creel, ecology professor, monitors elk-wolf interactions and trends in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.’s
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Robert Garrott, ecology professor, examines predator-prey dynamics in a wolf-ungulate (elk) relationship. Additionally, he is studying bison demography in relation to roads that are groomed for winter snowmobilers’ travel.
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Marcel Huijser, Western Transportation Institute researcher, is testing an animal warning system for motorists who drive along Highway 191 in Yellowstone National Park. The animal detection system detects large animals as they approach the road on a one-mile stretch of U.S. 191, 50 miles south of Belgrade. When a large animal like an elk breaks the high-frequency radio beam, warning signs flash.

Carl Wambolt, animal and range sciences, studies shrub ecology and management and the role of shrubs in range ecosystems. He examines the shrub-ungulate relationship in the Northern Yellowstone winter range.

Yellowstone microbes

Keith Cooksey, microbiology professor, searches the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park for microbes that exist in extremely hot environments. The microbes could be used to help clean CO2 emissions from smokestacks since the organisms feed on CO2 from the hot springs.

Gill Geesey, microbiology, examines growth rates of bacteria in subsurface environments, specifically of bacteria in hydrothermal vents at the bottom of Mary Bay of Yellowstone Lake. He scuba dives to the site to place artificial surfaces for these bacteria to colonize at the orifice of vents that emit hydrogen sulfide, the primary energy source for this group of bacteria. He returns to the vents at intervals and retrieves the surfaces, preserves the bacteria that have attached, and examines them under the microscope at MSU. He hypothesizes that the growth rates are dependent upon the concentrations of hydrogen sulfide; he tests this at different vents.

Timothy McDermott, environmental microbiologist, examines microbial communities inhabiting thermal springs. These organisms derive their energy from inorganic nutrients such iron, hydrogen, sulfide, and arsenite.
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Kathy Sheehan, microbiology, compiled a guide to the microbes of Yellowstone National Park, "Seen and Unseen: Discovering the Microbes of Yellowstone," to be published September, 2004 by The Globe Pequot Press. The highly illustrated book explains some the many microorganisms that inhabit the park and how they are important in Yellowstone’s ecology.
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David Ward, land resources and environmental sciences, is researching microbial diversity, ecology and evolution. In Yellowstone, he studies molecular analysis of composition, structure and function of hot spring microbial mat communities used as natural models.
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Mark Young, virologist/microbiologist and co-director of the Thermal Biology Institute at MSU, is researching viruses found in Yellowstone’s acidic (pH <3>0) high temperature (>80C) environments to understand biochemical adaptations to life at high temperature and to answer questions of the evolution of earth’s early life.
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Yellowstone plants

Duncan Patten, Big Sky Institute researcher, is studying effects of human activities on riparian ecosystems that link the altitudinal zones together. Because ecosystems vary in their resistance and resiliency to disturbance, resource management decisions should be based on information about the response of the systems to types of perturbation. Types of perturbation studied by Duncan’s group include recreation, fire, stream diversion, groundwater withdrawal and potential facilities construction.

Lisa Rew, land resources and environmental sciences professor of plant ecology, is interested in the spatial distribution and dynamics of non-native plant populations and how to detect, map and model such populations. In the northern range of Yellowstone, she has developed a sampling methodology to survey for non-native plants within natural ecosystems. These data are used to make predictive maps of plant occurrence over the whole northern range.

Richard Stout, plant sciences, studies hot springs panic grass, common in geyser basins throughout Yellowstone. The main goal of the research is to uncover the biological processes behind the plant’s remarkable ability to tolerate hot, acidic soils in Yellowstone.
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Yellowstone fish

Billie Kerans, ecology professor, explores the ecologies of aquatic invasive species (New Zealand mud snail, Potamopyrgus antipodarum; salmonid whirling disease parasite, Myxobolus cerebralis) in aquatic ecosystems of the park.
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Joseph Shaw, electrical computer engineering professor, will fly over Yellowstone Lake to count non-native lake trout using lidar, laser radar, to detect the numbers of fish and areas they are most prevalent.

Yellowstone climate and land use

Lisa Graumlich, Big Sky Institute director, seeks to understand the interaction between climate variability and ecosystem processes, especially fire. She uses tree-ring records to reconstruct the history of drought and fire over the last 300 to 1,000 yrs. The records reveal the importance of long-term (>10 year) dry and wet periods in shaping the forest landscape of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Andy Hansen, ecology professor, is hoping to establish standards for assessing the current and long-term ecological condition of park resources. A goal is to develop protocols for the monitoring of ecosystem components which function as indicators, or "vital signs," of ecosystem health. Land use activities surrounding park borders can significantly influence the status of ecological condition and functioning within parks.
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