Population Demographics of Spiny Softshell Turtles in Four River Systems in Eastern Montana
Little is known about populations of spiny softshell turtles (Apalone spinifera) in Montana. This native species has been designated as a species of concern due to anthropogenic changes to their habitat, such as irrigation, and may serve as suitable ecological indicators of the ecosystems they occupy. This ongoing study of spiny softshell turtles can help managers better understand the state of river-floodplain ecosystems and potentially detect ecosystem changes that may impact a variety of species. For the past three years, the Rocky Mountain College turtle project has collected data on spiny softshell turtles in eastern Montana, covering over 400 miles of rivers and capturing over 500 turtles.
Pre-treatment Monitoring for North Hebgen Lake Whitebark Pine Restoration
My project will initiate pre-treatment monitoring of whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) near North Hebgen Lake in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This will be done in preparation for the Forest Service's North Hebgen Multiple Resource Project (NHMRP), which has proposed thinning treatments as a management strategy for whitebark pine stands. This pre-treatment monitoring will allow us to evaluate overall whitebark pine stand health in the area and will further enable the Hebgen Lake Ranger District to assess the effectiveness of their thinning treatments. Permanent transects will be established throughout the proposed treatment areas and stand health and cone production will be assessed. Future post-treatment assessment can use these transects and baseline data to determine the effects of thinning such as an increase in cone production and/or regeneration. In doing so, this may allow for a better understanding of whitebark pine stand health and regeneration near Hebgen Lake as well as the use of thinning treatments to address historic fire suppression in the area.
GLORIA Supplementary Lichen and Bryophyte Species Assessment in the Beartooth Mountains, Wyoming
This research projects aims to complete a comprehensive cryptogam species survey on the GLORIA summits on the Beartooth Plateau along with the first resurvey of the plots. The Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments (GLORIA) has established a research network to monitor plant communities and soil conditions in alpine ecosystems. Permanent plots on four summits, covering different ecotones, are surveyed every five years to compare diversity changes and better understand the effects of climate change on alpine environments. Alongside 5-year soil measurements and species inventory of vascular plants, a supplementary cryptogam species assessment will also be implemented. Due to lack of professionals, this organism group is often left at top cover estimate for assessment despite the importance to biomass and sensitivity to abiotic factors. This projects will be the the first effort to collect voucher specimens and record changes in cryptogam diversity and cover for the Beartooth GLORIA summits.
Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) Abundance, Movements, and Habitat Use in Tributaries of the Yellowstone River
Our primary research goal is to understand differences in snapping turtle (Chelydra serpetina) demographics in five tributaries of the Yellowstone River and to document important areas for snapping turtle survival such as nesting, hibernation and road crossing sites. No other study of its kind has been conducted in Montana - little information exists on basic distribution within their range, habitat preferences and quality, population demographics, nesting sites, hibernacula, and genetic information. Snapping turtles are long lived and the top predator of their ecosystem, making them great ecosystem indicators as well. For every captured turtle we'll collect blood samples we intend to analyze for heavy metals and hopefully conduct a DNA analysis to determine genetic distribution. Snapping turtles are a species of concern in Montana, but because of lack of information no management plan is currently in place. Studies have shown that an increase of even just 1% in the mortality rate of snapping turtles 15 years old or older will decrease the population by half in less than 20 years, which is especially concerning because the majority of deaths is likely to be nesting females, as they will walk long distances and expose themselves to road mortality, predation, and harvesting. Nesting success is thought to be very low in Montana - in the duration of this ongoing three-year study, we have caught almost 100 turtles, less than half of them were females and the youngest was estimated to be about six years old. We placed radio tags on fifteen individuals we will track throughout the year, gathering important information on hibernacula, territories, habitat use, nesting, and meta-population connectivity.
Potential of Remote Sensing to Predict Blister Rust and Pine Beetle Infestation Disturbance in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: Ground Truthing Computer Modeling at the North Hebgen Multiple Resource Project Area
This project is part of a broader effort to establish monitoring transects in whitebark pine (Pinue albicaulis) stands in support of the Forest Service's North Hebgen Multiple Resource Project (NHMRP). My research is focused on evaluating the effectiveness of remote sensing techniques to determine stand density/extent and blister rust and pine beetle infestation for whitebark pine stands in the NHMRP area. I'll use supervised and unsupervised classification workflows with remotely sensed data (1m resolution NAIP imagery from 2015) of the NHMRP study area to identify whitebark pine stands and determine their condition. The results of this classification will be ground truthed using data collected during whitebark pine stand assessments conducted in support of the NHMRP. Based on ground truthed data, I will run a second classification. The hope is that comparing the results of both workflows will give us information about the degree to which remote sensing techniques can generate data that help managers managers make more informed decisions.
Stakeholder Attitudes Towards Different Approaches to Increasing Public Access to the Yellowstone River
My YRRC project this year is an evolution of my project from last year (a determination of ownership for a stretch of islands upstream of Pompeys Pillar), this time with the focus being only on islands whose ownership/formation is ambiguous. This years project is focused on gaining stakeholder perspectives on ambiguous islands in the Yellowstone River. I used Q-methodology in order to map out different stakeholder perspectives on what should be done with these islands in terms of access, management, and determination of ownership. This will allow me to map out and compare stakeholder opinions concerning ambiguous islands.