Range/Wild Land Research Projects
Evaluating the impact and invasiveness of cheatgrass in rangelands and dryland wheat systems
Summary: Research and management of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is especially important as its distribution and abundance in Montana is predicted to increase with decreasing regional precipitation and increasing mean temperatures. The purpose of this research is to gain a greater understanding of climate and disturbance factors leading to cheatgrass invasion in Montana’s rangelands and wheat fields, and how to prevent and control it.
A decision support prioritization framework for non-indigenous plant population management.
Summary: Our overall project goal is to develop a non-indigenous plant species (NIS) decision support prioritization framework that will be based on sound ecological theory, tested with scientific methods, and ultimately be widely adopted by land managers. Our aim is to shift the focus of NIS management onto populations rather than where it is currently focused - on species. The prioritization framework will detail how to develop management plans, survey, monitor and model NIS occurrence and spread and how to target populations for management, and will be available on this website for managers to use.
Methods to monitor the temporal density and spatial occupancy dynamics of herbaceous invading plant species.
Summary: As part of the invasive species management framework, we are developing methodologies and tools to survey, map, and predict the invasion potential of multiple non-native plant species. We are developing and evaluate adaptive cluster and web NIS sampling designs using simulation and field testing. The methods will improve efficiency in determining the current and future distribution of NIS and of evaluating the response of NIS to management actions.
Survey, Monitoring and Predicting the Occurrence and Spread of Native and Non-native Plant Species at Idaho National Laboratories.
Summary: Management of both non-indigenous plant species (NIS) and rare plants species (RPS) is a high priority in many managed forests, wildlands and rangeland areas. However, rarely do either public or private agencies have sufficient resources to manage all NIS or conserve all RPS. Neither do agencies have sufficient information on the potential impacts of future anthropogenic development. Therefore, a better understanding of the temporal and spatial processes which drive both NIS and RPS population distributions and dynamics is required to improve management effectiveness and efficiency. The goal of this study is to determine the current distribution of NIS and RPS on the Idaho National Laboratories and predict the potential spatial and temporal metapopulation dynamics of these species to help inform management and future development decisions.
Understanding invasion dynamics: a case study for Dalmatian toadflax.
Summary: A greater understanding of the dynamics of how populations of non-indigenous species (NIS) spread on the landscape will allow for better management prioritization. This study will create, through age determination and genetic relatedness between individuals, a time-line for the invasion and expansion of a population of Dalmatian toadflax (Linaria dalmatica) as well as its satellite populations. Specifically for each population studied, we will determine when it was established, the rate of spread, and the mode of spread (i.e vegetative versus seed). By correlating this information with the climatic history of the invaded area, we can establish climate factors that influence population growth or decline. A database of such information for this species and other NIS can provide managers with practical information to judge how aggressive a species will spread in a given climate year.
Identifying the variables that drive non-indigenous plant species (NIS) invasions
Summary: Fire is an important natural disturbance in temperate forested ecosystems and serves as a critical but poorly understood link between climate change and biosphere response. In recent decades, extreme drought, land-cover alteration, and non-native plant invasions in temperate regions around the world have altered natural fire regimes at an alarming rate, and in the process, threatened native biodiversity and human well-being
Evaluation of weed seed dispersal by off-road vehicles
Summary: The introduction and spread of noxious weeds is a major cost in the management of both public and private lands, and noxious weeds have been the subject of many public awareness campaigns and policies. A more thorough understanding of the role of off road vehicles in weed dispersal is necessary to help reduce or prevent further spread of noxious weeds, both on public and private lands. We studied seed transport by off road vehicles, specifically all terrain vehicles (ATVs), with the goal of further understanding the dispersal and spread of noxious weeds. We determined that ATVs are an effective vector for seed transport.
Developing functional parameters for a science-based vehicle cleaning program to reduce transport of non-indigenous invasive plant species
Summary: Roads and trails are regarded as dispersal vectors for plant species due to transport and spread by vehicles, and thereafter, by natural population expansion in the more-disturbed environments along the right of way. Plant propagules (seeds and other reproductive parts) have been observed on vehicles, but the number of studies is limited. More propagules are likely to be collected by vehicles driven off-road than on gravel roads, and by tracked or all-terrain vehicles than civilian pattern vehicles, but there are no quantitative data to support this hypothesis. The aim of this project is to improve our understanding of plant propagule spread by vehicles, and develop protocols to reduce the movement of non-indigenous plant propagules, within and between Department of Defense installations.
Mountain Invasion Research Network
Investigating Tamarix spp. (saltcedar) establishment, reproduction and ecological effects in Montana
Summary: Restoration of many saltcedar invaded areas in Montana has had minimal success. Part of the reason for this may be that there is little information regarding saltcedar ecology in its northern range. Also, baseline data regarding the status of the invaded plant community and the chemistry of the soil is seldom collected prior to saltcedar removal. Successful restoration can’t be expected, without knowledge of saltcedar and riparian community ecology. Such knowledge includes understanding factors related to saltcedar seedling emergence, river flow conditions promoting establishment, alterations to soil chemistry and soil biota, vegetation present at invaded and un-invaded sites and vegetation response to saltcedar removal. Based on this need for information, several research investigations have been and are being performed by researchers in the Montana State University Weed and Invasive Plant Ecology Group.
Molecular, physiological and ecological characterization of the fungal endophyte-locoweed complex.
Summary: Locoweeds are legumes (mostly Astragalus and Oxytropis) that contain swainsonine (SWA), an alkaloid that causes the livestock disease ‘locoism’. Swainsonine consumption causes severe economic losses as locoweeds have a widespread distribution across the western U.S. The fungal endophyte, Undifilum oxytropis, is primarily or completely responsible for SWA in locoweeds. Vertebrate herbivores avoid locoweeds presumably because of SWA or cues from other secondary metabolites, but locoweed consumption occurs when preferred food plants are unavailable. Individuals can habituate to eating locoweeds and social interactions yield other locoweed consumers.
Science and society fellows program: partnering with rural schools in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Summary: The Science and Society project was developed to enhance the communication and leadership skills of graduate students while increasing science education by infusing locally relevant, current environmental science research into K-12 classrooms. Graduate student Fellows represented a broad range of disciplines focused on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem including plant ecology, geo-microbiology, snow science and civil engineering, thermal microbiology, historical geography, and hydrology. The Fellows partnered with local 4th-8th grade Teachers to bring cutting-edge science into K-8 local rural schools, and the Wind River Native American reservation in Wyoming. The objective of all partnerships was to develop and implement thoughtful, interesting and relevant science lessons based on the Fellow’s research area.