Collaborative Research: FSML-Enhanced Cooperative Research and Education at Flathead Lake Biological Station and Taylor Wilderness Research Station.
History: The Flathead Lake Biological Station (FLBS) scientists in Montana have a record of research on ecosystem dynamics in many sites: Glacier-Yellowstone, northern British Columbia, Alaska and Kamchatka. Cooperative work between FLBS and Taylor Wilderness Research Stations in Idaho (TWRS) has developed synergistically: FLBS benefits by access to another site for cooperative studies of river ecology in context of landscape and climate drivers and TWRS benefits by access to advanced ecosystem models, novel remote sensing tools and products and advanced data management tools and protocols.
Project plans: The University of Montana and University of Idaho are awarded a Collaborative Research FSML grant to facilitate field station infrastructure and interinstitutional collaboration building on the strengths of the individual programs and institutions. The Flathead Lake Biological Station in Montana and the Taylor Wilderness Research Station in Idaho, along with the Yellowstone Ecosystem Research Center (YERC) in Wyoming, are key stations in the region that can address issues of climate and land-use changes on terrestrial and aquatic processes that influence landscape connectivity and biodiversity. A primary installation will be a distributed-sensor array (RiverNet) in river and riparian systems at the Flathead (Middle Flathead River) and Taylor (Big Creek) Stations that will collect real-time data needed for demonstrating influences of climate and landscape change. This instrumentation will complement existing infrastructure at YERC. Aquatic sensors will collect real-time data on water depth, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, NO3 and water temperature. Riparian sensors will collect data on air temperature, humidity, total solar radiation, PAR and soil moisture and temperature at 20 cm and 50 cm depths. The design of the distributed sensor networks is the result of university researchers and engineers and instrument specialists at Cisco Systems Inc., a partner in this program.
The Taylor Wilderness Research Station will augment its power infrastructure to facilitate data acquisition from instruments, sensor arrays and computer operations through a combination of new solar arrays (43 kWh/day) and a microhydro turbine (50 kWh/day).
The Flathead Lake Biological Station will remodel its Freshwater Research Lab to facilitate analyses and data management from the RiverNet arrays by reworking the existing entrance areas to create office and lab space for RiverNet analysts, construct a secure server room, and connect lighting and servers to an existing emergency generator. All remodeling includes energy-efficient lighting and heating systems.
This infrastructure represents the first step toward development of a research coordination network in the region that is characterized by large federally protected areas (National Parks and wildernesses) embedded in complex mosaics of mountain and range habitats with steep elevational and latitudinal gradients of temperature and precipitation. Large blocks of roadless areas, coupled with largely undeveloped river bottoms of the upstream segments of three great rivers of North America (Columbia, Missouri, Saskatchewan), provide linkage corridors that have important ecological and economic functions that maintain the natural and cultural attributes of the regional landscape. However, the entire region is undergoing environmental and economic change as agricultural and forest lands convert to exurban uses and climate warming reduces snowpacks and lengthens growing seasons. The coordinated research empowered by the awarded infrastructure will add to an understanding of how natural processes are affected in this changing world and help inform the inevitable debate on how society should react to the potential threats. The field stations involved have strong educational programs and are of great interest to the general public as representative of wilderness and wildland areas. Increasing station capabilities with this award will help recruit students and provide knowledge on environmental change needed in educational curricula. In addition, the cooperative programs of the station mix students from local Indian tribes with nontribal students. The programs will broaden appreciation of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) as the Taylor Station is in close proximity to an ancient Shoshone tribal village (Sheep eaters). It will also expose students to cutting-edge, high-tech research.