SEG-funded MSU Ecology Project Locations SEG Project Locations          



Thirteen ecology student projects were selected to receive funding from SITKA GEAR® Ecosystem Grants (SEG). SEG only selects projects "of the highest quality" and that "have the potential to advance and transform the confluence of the environmental + social landscape as it relates to wildlife, stewardship and conservation."  Furthermore, SEG selected projects that "contribute to achieving environmental goals principally, where by doing so, society at large and the ecosystems we are inextricably bound to benefit. This includes wild, suburban and/or urban ecosystems alike."

The recipients, 11 graduate students and one graduating senior from Ecology, as well as a Civil Engineering graduate student working on an ecology project, were all awarded funds that will help carryout a myriad of research topics--from pollinators to grizzly bears.  See below for the awardees and a description of their SEG funded research.

“We are very grateful to SITKA GEAR® for their generosity in supporting a broad array of graduate student research at Montana State University through the SITKA GEAR® Ecosystem Grant program.  Their support will allow each of these students to add an important dimension to their research and it was particularly valuable in these uncertain financial times.”

          --Diane Debinski, Ecology Department Head              


Grant Recipient


Project Photo & Location Map

Kristen Cook

Kristen Cook

Degree Program:  M.S., Fish and Wildlife Management

Reproductive and Life-history Traits of Western Pearlshell Mussels in Montana

Description:  The western pearlshell, a freshwater mussel, is designated a species of concern in Montana due to population declines and whole-watershed extirpations. The decline of western pearlshells is particularly alarming considering the benefits freshwater mussels provide to aquatic ecosystems. Freshwater mussels can improve water quality through biofiltration, recycle nutrients, provide important food web components, and act as bio-indicators. Conservation of western pearlshells in Montana will require fundamental information on reproduction and life-history traits that is currently lacking. I am investigating the timing of western pearlshell reproduction, hermaphroditism in individuals, and identifying host fish for Montana populations.

Location:  Streams in the Anaconda Mountains located in the Flint-Rock and Big Hole watersheds

Western Pearlshell Mussel

Western Pearlshell Mussel


Flint-Rock and Big Hole watersheds in Anaconda Range Flint-Rock and Big Hole Watersheds, Anaconda Range, Montana

Simone Durney

Simone Durney 

Degree Program:  Ph.D., Ecology and Environmental Sciences

Effects of Shifting Seasonal Patterns on Three Native Plants and the Effect on Native Pollinators in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Decription:  This research focuses on understanding how predicted climate warming affects the morphological and physiological responses of three native perennials by experimentally manipulating temperature. These flowering plant species provide valuable food resources for pollinators that inhabit the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Location:  Typically, we would be in the Tetons measuring plants and collecting Parnassius clodius butterflies, but due to COVID-19 we switched gears and decided to stay in Bozeman at Montana State University's Horticulture Farm 

Field Tech and butterflyField Tech, Bailey Servais, taking plant measure-ments;  Parnassius clodius


MSU map

Horticulture Farm, Montana State University

Will GlennyWill Glenny

Degree Program:  Ph.D., Ecology and Environmental Sciences

The Effects of Conifer Encroachment on Pollinator Habitat in the Big Hole Valley of Southwest Montana

Description:  The sagebrush ecosystem provides critical habitat and hosts a diversity of wildlife characteristic to the western United States. However, due to climate change, increased land use, and altered disturbance regimes, the sagebrush ecosystem is one of the most imperiled environments in the United States. In particular, conifer encroachment, described as the range expansion of conifers into new habitat types, threatens sagebrush ecosystems by altering the soil composition and decreasing moisture and nutrient content available for other plant species. These plant species serve as valuable resources for animals in higher trophic levels like pollinators. My study investigates the relationship between conifer encroachment and pollinator communities in the sagebrush ecosystem to understand the future influence of conifer encroachment on sagebrush ecosystems. Results will inform management decisions supporting the removal of conifers to restore western landscapes.

Location:  Big Hole valley, along the south face of the Pintler mountain range in southwest Montana

Bumblebee visiting a Penstemon flower

Bumble bee visiting a Penstemon flower




Glenny Project Location mapBig Hole valley, along the south face of the Pintler range in SW Montana

Emma Grusing

Emma Grusing

Degree Program:  Graduating Senior, Fish & Wildlife Ecology Management

Evaluating Characteristics of Summer Migrations and Mineral Licks used by Two Mountain Ungulates

Description:  A deficiency in trace minerals is a common cause of impairment to an organism’s physiological functions which can negatively affect the demographic vigor of populations. Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) and mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) ingest soil at areas called “licks” to obtain trace minerals that are lacking in their diets. In this project, we have evaluated location data from collared bighorn sheep females in 5 Montana herds, and found a common occurrence of multiple short-duration, low elevation movements per individual over the summer months. We predicted that these movements were to mineral lick sites. Using satellite imagery, we have defined several areas of potential mineral lick sites per herd based on the locations of the bighorn sheep females and physical characteristics of known lick sites. We plan to visit these areas during the summer and autumn of 2020 to conduct soil collections for trace mineral analysis in order to determine if the area is a mineral lick. 

Location:  Western Montana locations, including the Rocky Mountain Front, Anaconda Range, Madison Range, Gallatin Range, and the Beartooth Range.

Bighorn Sheep Bighorn Sheep



Grusing Project Area MapNorthern Rocky Mountain Front, Anaconda Range, Madison Range, Gallatin Range, and Beartooth Range in Montana

Kadie Heinle

Kadie Heinle

Degree Program:  M.S., Fish and Wildlife Management

Investigating the Effects of Streamflow, Drought Conditions, and Non-native Wild Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) on Native Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii bouvieri) in a Tributary System

Description:  Yellowstone cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii bouvieri) are a culturally and ecologically important species throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and are declining across much of their native range. Many factors have contributed to their decline, but fisheries managers have become increasingly concerned about the potential of non-native brown trout (Salmo trutta) to displace Yellowstone cutthroat trout, especially during drought conditions. The aim of my study is to better understand how Yellowstone cutthroat trout respond to low streamflow (drought conditions) and the presence of non-native brown trout  in a tributary ecosystem. To do so, I am using (1) long-term observational data to assess trends in Yellowstone cutthroat trout survival and growth in response to streamflow and brown trout and (2) fine-scale natural experiments to determine both how habitat quality changes with decreasing streamflow and how brown trout influence the ability of Yellowstone cutthroat trout to access high-quality habitat.

Location:  Duck Creek watershed tributary of the Yellowstone River near Springdale, MT

Rainbow TroutYellowstone Cutthroat Trout



Duck Creek Tributary of Yellowstone River near Springdale, MTDuck Creek Tributary of Yellowstone River near Springdale, MT

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson

Degree Program:  M.S., Civil Engineering

(Working on project with Ecology grad student, Ian Anderson)

Huntley Diversion Fish Bypass Study: An interdisciplinary project from a partnership between Montana State University and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Description: The SITKA GEAR® grant will help fund the Huntley Diversion Fish Bypass Study, an interdisciplinary project between Montana State University and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. The Huntley Diversion Dam is located on the Yellowstone River near Huntley, MT, and provides irrigation water to the surrounding communities. The dam is likely a barrier to upstream fish movement. In recent years, a nature-like fish bypass channel was built to facilitate fish passage, but its efficacy is unknown. Now, Civil Engineering master's student Andrew Johnson (SITKA GEAR® grant recipient) and Fish & Wildlife Management graduate student, Ian Anderson, are working to determine if the varying hydraulic and hydrologic conditions in the bypass channel will allow the diverse fish species in the Yellowstone River to successfully pass the dam and continue upriver.

Location:  Huntley, MT  

Huntley Diversion Dam with Fish BypassNature-like Fish Bypass at Huntley Diversion Dam--photo by Ian Anderson



Huntley Diversion Dam projectHuntley Diversion Dam onYellowstone River near Huntley, MT

Elise Loggers

Elise Loggers

Degree Program:  M.S., Fish and Wildlife Management

Resource Selection of Grizzly Bears and Evaluation of Yellowstone’s Bear Management Areas

Description: The SITKA GEAR® Ecosystem Grant will help fund summer field work and research.  GPS collared grizzly bears in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks are located to better understand which resources grizzlies utilize throughout the year.  Field data is combined with existing telemetry data to identify important resources and assess habitat quality for grizzlies.  The findings will be used to update the current Bear Management Area plan in Yellowstone National Park and be applied to Grand Teton National Park to identify candidate Bear Management Areas.  

Location:  Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks 

Grizzly with cubs (NPS Photo)Grizzly with cubs--NPS photo



Yellowstone and Grand Teton National ParksYellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Zach Maguire

Zach Maguire

Degree Program: M.S., FIsh and Wildlife Management

Understanding Patterns and Timing of the Iconic Salmonfly Hatch on the Madison River

Description:  Funds from the SITKA GEAR® Ecosystem Grant will support a field experiment that will compare the physiological responses of salmonflies (Pteronarcys californica) from different populations to warming water temperature. We will be collecting salmonflies from the Madison River to run the experiment with a stream-side mobile physiology lab to estimate salmonfly thermal tolerances and metabolism across populations. These findings will be important for predicting how salmonflies will respond to stress and provide insight into future population changes.  Specifically, we will ask: How does water temperature impact the physiological response of salmonflies, and is the response variable depending on population source or seasonal acclimation conditions? We predict that warming water temperatures are a physiological stress to salmonflies and that different salmonfly populations will show different physiological responses to increasing water temperature because they are locally adapted to different water temperature regimes.

Location:  Near Varney Bridge, Madison River 

Salmon Fly Salmonfly



Madison River near Varney BridgeMadison River Near Varney Bridge, Ennis, MT

Jose Sanchez Ruiz

Jose Sanchez-Ruiz

Degree Program:  Ph.D., Biological Sciences

The Effects of Heavy Metals (from mining + industry) on the Clark Fork River Food Webs Including Apex Predators Like Fish and Birds of Prey

Description:  Mining is a pervasive disturbance in the western US and represents the major source of heavy metal pollution in freshwater ecosystems globally. These activities can reduce the biodiversity of freshwater communities, and heavily contaminated sites typically harbor a small subset of the potential species pool. However, very few studies have considered the consequences of these changes on river productivity and how energy is transferred from the base of the food web to the top. With the supervision of my advisor, Dr. Wyatt Cross, I am taking an ecosystem approach to assessing how heavy metal pollution influences food webs of the Clark Fork River in Montana. Food webs provide a powerful way to assess the impact of disturbance on ecosystems. In the context of heavy metal contamination, food webs may be simplified due to loss of sensitive species, a decrease in the number of interactions between species, and extirpation of top predators. In some locations on the Clark Fork River, brown trout population densities have decreased from ~ 1250 fish/km to 21 to 125 fish/km. My research will provide basic information that can contribute to ecological theory as well as provide valuable information for river managers as a massive restoration effort continues.

Location: Clark Fork River from the Warm Springs ponds near Butte all the way to Bonita

 Food websClark Fork big algae mats cover the benthos, serving as habitat and a food source for aquatic insects.



Jose Sanchez-Ruiz Project MapClark Fork River from the Warm Springs Ponds to Bonita area, Montana


Evan ShieldsEvan Shields

Degree Program:  M.S., Fish and Wildlife Mgmt.

Loss of an Icon: Can Trumpeter Swans Persist in Yellowstone National Park?

Description: By the early 1930s, the continental United States breeding population of trumpeter swans consisted of only about 70 individuals; most of them were found in the remote greater Yellowstone area. Although instrumental to the recovery of the species across North America, the population of trumpeter swans which resides within Yellowstone National Park has declined dramatically and has produced very few young in recent years. Thus, there are strong concerns about the population’s future. The focus of this project is to explore the potential causes of the decline and increase the understanding of trumpeter swan population dynamics in Yellowstone National Park with the hope that it can inform management decisions to protect and restore these iconic birds.

Location: Yellowstone National Park  

 Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans in Yellowstone National Park


Yellowstone National Park project areaYellowstone National Park

Kristen Switzer

Kristen Switzer

Degree Program:  M.S., Biological Sciences


Landscape Analysis of Native Bee Community Composition and Plant-Bee Interactions in Yellowstone National Park


This research project will address the drivers of landscape-scale patterns in native bee community composition in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) and how plant-bee interactions vary with elevation. Researching the environmental conditions that support different groups of native bees temporally and spatially is crucial for understanding patterns in bee biodiversity. The funding generously provided by SITKA GEARwill enable us to gain knowledge on which areas and conditions in the park support different bee and plant species. Ultimately, this knowledge can be applied to support landscape-scale pollinator habitat protection and teach the public about the importance of maintaining these species.

Location:  Yellowstone National Park (sites ranging from Gardiner to Mount Washburn) 

Pollinator in YNP

Pollinator in YNP


Yellowstone National Park project area

Yellowstone National Park (Gardiner to Mount Washburn)

Nick Voss

Nick Voss

Degree Program:  M.S., Fish and Wildlife Management

The Distribution, Growth, and Recruitment of Juvenile Non-native Smallmouth Bass Across a Broad Thermal Gradient in the Yellowstone River


The Yellowstone River is the longest un-dammed river in the contiguous U.S. and supports a highly connected mosaic of fish habitat that is uncommon for rivers of its size today. Such connectivity is a major advantage for native fish coping with a warming climate; however, the same can also be true for newcomers to the system. Non-native Smallmouth Bass in particular have rapidly colonized upstream reaches of the Yellowstone, to the extent that adults were recently observed in the celebrated trout waters of Paradise Valley. Although climate warming probably plays a role, a lack of temperature data initially obscured our understanding of this recent expansion, as well as our ability to make predictions about the future.

The funds provided by SITKA GEAR will allow me to continue maintaining an expansive array of data loggers that can measure water temperatures every hour for months on end. This growing database has already shed new light on what controls the upstream spread of Smallmouth Bass in the Yellowstone, as well as how this population may use pockets of warm water to colonize habitat that would otherwise be too cold. We thank SITKA GEAR for their generous support of this research, and look forward to publicly sharing our findings in the coming months.

Location:  The Yellowstone River between Emigrant and Custer, MT

 Nick Voss with Smallmouth Bass on Yellowstone River

Nick Voss with Smallmouth Bass on Yellowstone RIver


Yellowstone River Project Area

Yellowstone River between Emigrant and Custer, Montana

Chloe Wasteneys

Chloe Wasteneys

Degree Program:  M.S., Biological Sciences

Ecophysical Responses and Tolerances to Climate Change in High Elevation Pines

Description:  My research focuses on the intraspecific ecophysiological tolerances to heat and drought of three high elevation pines: whitebark pine, limber pine, and bristlecone pine. All three pines are keystone species, but whitebark and limber pine populations have been decreasing at alarming rates for decades due to mountain pine beetle infestations, white pine blister rust, overcrowding due to fire suppression, and climate change. Understanding the true heat and drought tolerances of these pines is crucial for proper management and restoration techniques that aim to retain these high elevation pine populations. 

Location:  Plant Growth Center, Montana State University

Wasteneys Project PhotoBristlecone Pine Seedling in the Lab


MSU map

Plant Growth Center, Montana State University