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Ecology

Science Spotlights

Sheltered from wind and scorching heat, a seedling takes root in mature biological soil crust (photo by Neal Herbert, National Park Service).
Human activity has led to a global decline in biodiversity across all trophic levels, reducing the ability of ecosystems to maintain key functions. The loss of various species in an ecosystem has wide-reaching effects by reducing the numerous and often hidden species-species and species-environment interactions. These disruptions ultimately lead to changes and declines in the ecosystem’s functionality. 
Photo of a forest fire
The 20th Century was a period of enormous change for western forests. Fire used to maintain distinct forest vegetation communities – pine, dry mixed-conifer, mesic mixed-conifer, and spruce-fir – in close proximity to one another along steep vertical gradients in the topographically diverse forests of the American Southwest. How did these forests change in response to fire exclusion? In what ways and how rapidly? What are the consequences of...
A closeup shot of a lynx face
The management of Canada lynx habitat is an issue that has generated much debate and litigation across the Northern (Montana, Idaho) and Southern (Colorado, Wyoming) Rocky Mountains. This species depends almost exclusively on snowshoe hare for food during winter, and this prey species is sensitive to changes in forest composition and structure. Research conducted by scientists at the Rocky Mountain Research Station, in collaboration with...
Whitebark pine sapling, Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area, Salmon-Challis National Forest, Idaho
Forest inventory data show that more than half of all standing whitebark pine trees in the U.S. are dead. Regeneration of whitebark pine is widespread, especially in lodgepole pine stands, which suggests that active management of whitebark pine should target mixed-species stands to take advantage of natural regeneration. 
Photo of a fen with floating mat on the water. The mat has Carex limosa and Sphagnum mosses
Mountain fens (peat-accumulating wetlands) are groundwater-dependent habitats (i.e. groundwater dependent ecosystems) protected under the Clean Water Act and other federal mandates in the United States. There is increasing interest in documenting and monitoring the occurrence and characteristics of fens. In addition to supporting unusual plants, fens are sites of carbon and water storage and long-term ecological stability, since the underlying...
National Genomics Center stream water filter setup for eDNA sample collection
The National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation pioneered development of eDNA sampling of aquatic environments at their laboratory in Missoula, MT. The Center has partnered with dozens of National Forests, as well as other state, federal, tribal, and private natural resource organizations to assist in the collection and processing of eDNA samples. Thousands of eDNA samples are collected annually and constitute a rapidly growing...
A prescribed fire burning through Pinus monophylla and Juniperus osteosperma in the Great Basin Piñon-Juniper Woodland of the Southern Intermountain geographic region. (Photo by Jeanne Chambers, RMRS.)
Changes in fire patterns for piñon and juniper vegetation in the western United States were analyzed over a 30-year period. This is the first evaluation of its type.
High-severity wildfires are increasing and researchers are issuing different findings regarding wildfire impacts on spotted owls (Strix occidentalis), a threatened species that nests in mature, western forests with large trees and high canopy cover. Data from different studies show mixed responses of spotted owls to fire, but suggest that the effects of high-severity wildfires could be significant throughout the range of all three subspecies....
Final resistance map depicting the combined effects of topographical roughness, slope position, land cover and human footprint on resistance to tiger gene flow in Central India.
The Bengal tiger is the world’s largest feline, which has suffered immense declines in range and population. Today, less than 10 percent of the tiger's original range is occupied with a global population of less than 7000 individuals in the wild. Understanding the factors that drive local abundance and population connectivity are critical for the conservation of this species.  
100 years ago a study was initiatied near the Fort Valley Experimental Forest in Arizona to look at how different varieties of ponderosa pines would grow in different forest/geographic areas. Researchers found that more northerly or higher elevation materials performed better.    

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