We seek to understand how birds use the habitats available and how that will change as we work to create more diverse plant communities. We also host researchers that document migrations of raptors and songbirds across MPG.
In this section of the research pages, you will find links to reports and updates from all the researchers involved with avian ecology, posted chronologically. The links will show you more in-depth reports on our findings. The three main projects covered here are:
Songbird Counts- A grid of sampling points covers MPG with 560 points. We visit each point 3 times a year, once in winter and twice during the songbird breeding season. We record, by ear or by sight, all the birds near that point for 10 minutes.
Songbird Banding- The University of Montana Bird Ecology Lab, UMBEL, runs several trapping stations at MPG as part of their regional songbird monitoring program. UMBEL sets up very fine nets that are nearly invisible to birds in brushy habitats. Songbirds fly into the nets and become entangled. The researchers take the birds from the nets and affix a numbered band to their leg before releasing them.
Raptor Research- The Raptor View Research Institute monitors raptor populations on MPG and counts raptors that migrate past MPG in the spring and fall. Raptor View researchers have placed transmitters on osprey and golden eagles that use the Bitterroot Valley.
Plant phenology, the timing of plant biological events, affects the ecological community from microbe to megafauna. An understanding of plant phenology is essential for effective restoration and management. We collect species level phenology to explore patterns of phenology and the role it plays in a landscape where non-native species threaten the integrity of ecosystem function. Weekly from March to November we document plant phenological stages of emergent, budding, flowering, fruiting, mature seed, senescent, and fall growth for species at 30 phenology sites across the property. Preliminary results of this long term monitoring project confirm native and non-native species have disparate phenological patterns. To see the 2013 Phenology Report click here. To see Rebecca Durham's presentation on COMPARATIVE PHENOLOGY OF WESTERN RANGELAND PLANTS click here.
We seek to understand the distribution and abundance of mammals. Several monitoring projects are underway.
Elk- Elk numbers fluctuate through the year with herds of several hundred animals moving onto the ranch in the fall and winter. Fewer elk stay around to raise their calves in the spring and summer. We track herd size, the habitat they use for feeding, and the amount of biomass available to them for forage. We are curious about how elk habits will change in response to changes in vegetation communities as restoration activities proceed.
Bears- The lower elevation draws and drainages at MPG were de-vegetated by herbicide applications and sheep and cattle browsing. As of the summer 2012, we have planted more than 30,000 trees and shrubs in these drainages. The plantings will provide cover for animals using the draw bottoms as travel corridors between the upland forests and the floodplain forests. Many of the shrubs we have planted, such as hawthorns, choke cherries, and serviceberry, will provide food for bears. Our bear monitoring efforts seek to document how many bears we have now and where they travel.
Click here for a link to a list of mammals we have seen and photos.
Click here for links to our best mammal footage.
We would like to do more small mammal research. Please contact us with ideas for collaboration. (Click here to contact us.)
Plants live in tight association with microbes, especially belowground where fungi and bacteria live on and inside the roots of plants. The relationship can be beneficial or harmful to the plant. Some microbes cause plant diseases by decomposing roots. Others trade nutrients with the roots in return for sugars produced aboveground by leaves.
We investigate two main aspects of the relationship between plants and microbes in the soil. First, as it pertains to weeds, we want to know if soil microbes can help or hinder plant invasions. Three highly invasive weeds of contrasting life history strategies; cheatgrass, knapweed and leafy spurge, co-occur with remnants of native plant vegetation. This creates a unique opportunity to observe, characterize, and manipulate interactions between plants and belowground microbial communities. We outline a number of short, intermediate and long-term research projects that will significantly enhance our knowledge regarding plant microbe interactions and soil processes, with the overall goal to better understand, predict and counteract plant invasions, and to restore and manage invaded ecosystems.
Second, we seek to understand how the relationship between plants and soil influences the function of ecosystem processes. Soil microbes are responsible for organic matter decomposition and nutrient cycling between the atmosphere and the land. On this project we collaborate with the Earth Microbiome Project (EMP). The goal is to map and understand the diversity of microorganisms in habitats around the world. We mapped microbial diversity and function across gradients of weed invasions.
Humans have exerted a major influence on plant communities across MPG Ranch that began with fires set by the Native American and continued with intensive livestock grazing, farming, and herbicide applications. The overall result of these activities is that low diversity and low productivity plant communities composed mainly of non-native plants cover many areas. In many cases the existing undesired vegetation is hardy and resistant to replacement, after all it is the stuff that has survived grazing, herbicide applications, and the ranch’s harsh climate. The updates and reports in this section show the approaches we take to figure out the best ways to restore diverse and productive plant communities. The Restoration Map under the maps heading is the best way to explore our restoration work. The map interface allows researchers to explain our methods and research in a chronological and spatial context. Abstracts and links to major updates and plans will be visible on this page.
Rangeland diversification- In some cases we use herbicide applications combined with fire and drill seeding to establish new communities.
Assisted Succession- We have also developed a new approach to restoration of weedy areas using a naturally herbicide resistant initial plant to reclaim weed infestations. The plant is called sainfoin. It is a legume that enriches the soil and allows us to kill-off the weeds seed bank before we re-plant.
Plants constitute the essential core of the ecosystem. Without plants, habitat exists only as an inhospitable void. Knowing that vegetation plays such an integral part in ecosystem function, we keep a close eye on the current state and subsequent changes in vegetation. One facet of vegetation research is vegetation data collection across MPG.
A grid of 560 sampling points covers MPG, with each point separated by about 200 yards. We visit each point to gather data on plant communities. At each point we set up 4 transects, each 50 feet long. Botanists record the plant species encountered at each foot. The reports in this section discuss how we categorize plant communities and the relationships between plant communities and other kinds of organisms.
As we continue to layer data onto this sampling grid we will post new discussions of interactions between plant communities and new groups of organisms. Rebecca Durham, one of the botanists that conducted the original survey, is revisiting many of the points to document lichen and moss community composition.
Jeff Clarke's Field Note details exclosure removal, floodplain sapling protection, and the stamen of the shooting star.
04-06-13 Bird Field Note
04-19-13 Field Note