About the IoE
Visit our more up-to-date, statewide website at www.montanaioe.org.
The role of the Montana Institute on Ecosystems (IoE) is to serve as a research and education portal on ecosystem sciences to the citizens of Montana and beyond. The IoE is accessible and promotes inclusion to all institutions of higher education within the state. Its breadth of membership is inclusive of all state and federal agencies, NGOs, private land owners as well as industry. It will draw on interactive relationships among these various groups to offer up realistic solutions to today's and future environmental issues. The IoE has a primary focus on facilitating interdisciplinary research by encouraging collaborations among a wide range of disciplines.
More information about the IoE across the Montana University System (MUS) can be found on the Montana Institute on Ecosystems website.
What is an ecosystem?
An ecosystem, simply defined, is a community of all the living and non-living things in a specific geographic area. An ecosystem can be small, such as the area under a pine tree or a single hot spring in Yellowstone National Park, or it can be large, such as the Rocky Mountains, the rainforest or the Antarctic Ocean.
Whether alive (biotic) or not alive (abiotic), all components of an ecosystem impact each other directly or indirectly. For example, a small change in the temperature or moisture in soil (which is abiotic) can affect the microscopic organisms that live within it. The number and health of those micro-organisms then affect the plants that grow in the soil, and the plant growth then impacts the animals (including humans) in the food chain.
Defining and naming ecosystems is difficult because it’s not always clear where the boundaries lie. Sometimes ecosystems are based on natural topographic features, such as a mountain range or the edges of a lake. Other times, scientists outline ecosystems based on shared characteristics, such as an area with similar snowfall or flooding patterns. And sometimes, we define an ecosystem based on man-made boundaries, such as all the counties that rely on water from a particular river. As you can imagine, ecosystems often overlap and can also be subsets of one another.