July 15th, 2014

Togiak Archaeological and Paleoecological Project

Anna Prentiss, Professor in UM Anthropology recently was awarded an NSF EAGER grant of $299,994 to initiate the Togiak Archaeological and Paleoecological Project. This is the first major study of human, climate, and marine/terrestrial resource relationships spanning the past 1000 years in the northern Bristol Bay area of SW Alaska. Bristol Bay ecology is now a very hot topic in political, ecological, and economic circles.
The Togiak Archaeological and Paleoecological Project is a long-term study of Yup’ik Eskimo village establishment and growth, traditional subsistence variability, and technology in the context of climate change during the past 1000 years. With a research focus on the Old Togiak archaeological site, the project will contribute towards an enhanced understanding of the ancient history of the Bristol Bay Yup’ik people from the early Thule period through developments during the early Colonial period. It will also contribute to a deeper scientific understanding of relationships between human predation pressure, changing climate regimes and variability in key prey populations, especially emphasizing salmon and several species of pinnipeds. Research at the Old Togiak site will be conducted in collaboration with Togiak Traditional Council, Bristol Bay Native Association, and the descendent community.
The Old Togiak site is a house mound village consisting of one large mound stretching at least 130 meters in length adjacent to at least six other somewhat smaller mounds. Depressions on the surface of some mounds suggest an array of late-dating house structures and cache pits, in addition to some illicit modern excavations. Previous excavations at the Old Togiak site focused exclusively on the large mound and revealed deeply stratified deposits (at least four meters) that included indicators of house structures, clay-lined cache pits, possible outdoor activity areas, and shell midden material along with excellent preservation of organic artifacts and food remains. This research will seek to reconstruct the history of the Togiak house mounds and develop an initial paleoecological model for the period of occupation. This will be accomplished by conducting extensive geophysical investigations emphasizing magnetometry, electrical resistivity, and ground penetrating radar. The geophysical work will be accompanied by geoarchaeological assessment of landform development and site formation processes. Finally, subsurface sampling across the site will be accomplished using a deep coring system from which samples for radiocarbon dating and paleoecological analysis will be extracted.

July 1st, 2014

UM Hosts NORM’14

Congratulations to Nick Natale the General Chair of NORM’14 the regional ACS meeting held recently at UM in Missoula. The scientific programming and social events were a great success. The final count was 217 abstracts presented and 389 meeting registrants. Among those attending were Marinda Wu, immediate past president of the American Chemical Society (world’s largest single discipline scientific society) and six current national ACS governance, two former board members, and one member of CAS. This is about three times the usual governance attendance at a regional meeting.

June 25th, 2014

New Journal from UM

Check out a new journal that is co-curated by UM. Education’s Histories is the “methodologial grist for the history of education”. The site is at www.educationshistories.org and is co-curated by Adrea Lawrence and Sara Clark.

June 24th, 2014

George Zoto UM Alum and Scientist

Had the opportunity to speak with an alumnus of the University of Montana during a gathering of ATO members from days past. George Zoto is Senior Environmental Analyst and he’s been with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for almost 30 years. He received a BA in Botany from the University of Montana. He’s currently working on cyanobacteria and on nitrogen in municipal waters. For those interested in his work please check out: Inter-municipal Watershed Planning and TMDL Implementation to Restore Embayment Water Quality in Cape Cod: Three Case Studies of Towns Sharing Coastal Watersheds.

June 23rd, 2014

Death of Noted Woman Scientist

Although she was not related to UM in any way, we should note the passing of Stephanie Kwolek. Ms. Kwolek was a chemist at Dupont and invented the technology behind Kevlar. As you probably know, Kevlar is a virtually bulletproof fiber that has saved thousands of lives in its use in bulletproof vests for police and the military. Ms. Kwolek died at age 90 on Wednesday in Wilmington, Deleware.

June 11th, 2014

Summer Undergraduate Research Program at UM

Center for Environmental Health Sciences- Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP)

Since the summer of 2008, CEHS with funding from NIEHS/NIH has sponsored a 10-week summer research program that continues to provide undergraduates an experience that encourages them to consider environmental and biomedical careers. This year, from 26 applicants across the US, six undergraduate students were selected to perform research projects with the guidance of UM scientist mentors.

Sarah Kinsey from Missoula, Mont., attending University of Montana with mentor Dr. Elizabeth Putnam, will be working on “The Control of Protein Production Related to Lung Fibrosis.” Sarah will study the role that a matricellular protein called SPARC plays in the formation of fibrosis.

Elena Beideck from Saranac Lake, NY, attending SUNY Geneseo with Dr. Chris Migliaccio, will be working on “Evaluation of Nanomaterials for Potential Therapeutics.” Elena will focus on screening a wide variety of nanoparticles for potential use in cancer therapy.

Harley Fredriksen from Stevens Point, Wisc., attending University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point will be working with Dr. Yoon Hee Cho in “Evaluating Epigenetic Alterations by Multi-walled Carbon Nanotubes Exposure” focusing on evaluating epigenetic alterations by engineered nanomaterials exposure and developing epigenetic biomarkers to detect exposure and potential disease risk.

Katie Dorsett of Missoula, Mont., attending University of Montana with mentors, Drs. Kevan Roberts and Zeina Jaffar will be “Evaluating the Responses of Murine Natural Killer Cells to Airborne Allergens” focusing on the interaction between the common house dust mite allergen and NK cells.

Jaxie Friedman of Waccabuc, NY, attending Wesleyan University with mentor Dr. Fernando Cardozo, will focus on “Evaluation of Pesticides on Motor Behavior and Brain Neurochemistry” using a fruit fly model (Drosophila melanogaster) to evaluate changes in motor behavior and brain neurochemistry after exposure to pesticides linked to Parkinson’s Disease.

Andrew Closson of Hampden, ME, attending University of Maine with mentor Dr. Andrij Holian will be “Evaluating the Uptake and Processing of Nanoparticles in a Human Epithelial Cell Line (A549) using CellLight Reagents” by utilizing a human cell line with specific proteins and treated with engineered nanomaterials to delineate the mechanism of lysosomal membrane degradation.

June 5th, 2014

Two UM Research Admins Retire

Two people who contributed mightily to research administration at UM retired this year.

Vernon Grund served as UM’s associate dean for research and graduate education for the College of Health Professions & Biomedical Sciences. Vernon was instrumental in establishing what has become one of the strongest and most widely recognized research units on campus.

Dan Pletscher led the UM Wildlife Biology Program for nearly 20 years. Dan built one of the nation’s most prestigious research and teaching programs in wildlife biology and management. Dan continues to assist the university through the UM Foundation.

May 30th, 2014

Study Finds Climate Change Accelerates Hybridization Between Native and Invasive Trout

A new article by researchers from the University of Montana, the U.S. Geological Survey and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks asserts that climate warming is increasing the hybridization of trout – interbreeding between native and non-native species – in the interior western United States.

Clint Muhlfeld, a research assistant professor in the UM Division of Biological Sciences’ Flathead Lake Biological Station and research ecologist with the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center in Glacier National Park, is the lead author of the article, titled “Invasive hybridization in a threatened species is accelerated by climate change,” which was published in the latest issue of Nature Climate Change. Co-authors are Ryan Kovach, a postdoctoral scholar at UM’s Flathead Lake Biological Station, and Leslie Jones, a UM doctoral student who works with Muhlfeld and USGS.

Specifically, rapid increases in stream temperature and decreases in spring flow over the past several decades contributed to the spread of hybridization between native westslope cutthroat trout and the introduced rainbow trout – the world’s most widely introduced invasive fish – across the Flathead River system in Montana and British Columbia, Canada.

Experts have hypothesized that climate change could decrease worldwide biodiversity through cross-breeding between invasive and native species, but this study is the first to directly and scientifically support this prediction. The study was based on 30 years of research by scientists with UM, USGS and Montana FWP.

Hybridization has contributed to the decline and extinction of many native fishes worldwide, including all subspecies of cutthroat trout in western North America, which have enormous ecological and socioeconomic value. The researchers used long-term genetic monitoring data coupled with high-resolution climate and stream temperature predictions to measure whether climate warming enhances interactions between native and non-native species through hybridization.

“Climatic changes are threatening highly prized native trout as introduced rainbow trout continue to expand their range and hybridize with native populations through climate-induced ‘windows of opportunity,’ putting many populations and species at greater risk than previously thought,” Muhlfeld said.

“The study illustrates that protecting genetic integrity and diversity of native species will be incredibly challenging when species are threatened with climate-induced invasive hybridization,” he said.


Westslope cutthroat trout and rainbow trout both spawn in the spring and can produce fertile offspring when they interbreed. Over time, a mating population of native and non-native fish will result in only hybrid individuals with substantially reduced fitness because their genomes have been altered by non-native genes that are maladapted to the local environment. Protecting and maintaining the genetic integrity of native species is important for a species’ ability to be resilient and better adapt to a rapidly changing climate.

Historical genetic samples revealed that hybridization between the two species was largely confined to one downstream Flathead River population. However, the study noted, during the past 30 years, hybridization rapidly spread upstream, irreversibly reducing the genetic integrity of native westslope cutthroat trout populations. Genetically pure populations of westslope cutthroat trout are known to occupy less than 10 percent of their historical range.

The rapid increase in hybridization was associated with climatic changes in the region. From 1978 to 2008, the rate of warming nearly tripled in the Flathead basin, resulting in earlier spring runoff, lower spring flooding and flows, and warming summer stream temperatures. Those locations with the greatest changes in stream flow and temperature experienced the greatest increases in hybridization.

Relative to cutthroat trout, rainbow trout prefer these climate-induced changes and tolerate greater environmental disturbance. These conditions likely have enhanced rainbow trout spawning and population numbers, leading to massive expansion of hybridization with westslope cutthroat trout.

“The evolutionary consequences of climate change are one of our greatest areas of uncertainty because empirical data addressing this issue are extraordinarily rare,” Kovach said. “This study is a tremendous step forward in our understanding of how climate change can influence evolutionary process and ultimately species biodiversity.”

Overall, aquatic ecosystems in western North America are predicted to experience earlier snowmelt in the spring, reduced late spring and summer flows, warmer and drier summers, and increased water temperatures – all of which indicate increased hybridization between these species.

Additional UM-affiliated authors are UM Wildlife Biology Program Director Winsor Lowe, UM Associate Professor of Conservation Ecology Gordon Luikart and Regents Professor Emeritus Fred Allendorf. Authors not affiliated with UM are Robert Al-Chokhachy with the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, Matthew Boyer with Montana FWP in Kalispell and Robb Leary with Montana FWP in Missoula.

The study was supported by the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Northwest Climate Science Center, the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center, the National Science Foundation and Bonneville Power Administration.

Coverage of this research on NPR, in the Flathead Beacon.

May 29th, 2014

MtnSEON the Mountain Socio-Ecological Observatory Network

Mountain Socio-Ecological Observatory Network (MtnSEON): a Social-Ecological-Systems Approach to Vulnerability and Sustainability in Complex Mountain Landscapes is the product of a group of researchers from UM, the University of Idaho, WSU, the Flathead Lake Biological Station and the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center.

Mountain-valley environments are complex landscapes characterized by steep biophysical gradients with many areas experiencing profound socioeconomic transitions such as rapid population growth and land-use change. Human-environment relationships in these landscapes vary from emerging amenity-oriented communities associated with demographic changes to communities with continuing legacies in extractive natural resources. Sustainability and resilience of these landscapes remains uncertain and is a function of the ability of the natural and human systems to respond to change under shifting social, ecological, and economic forces. MtnSEON, an NSF-funded Research Coordination Networks (RCN) program, will address the overarching issue: how can we reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems in complex mountain landscapes through research and education partnerships?

The main objectives of MtnSEON are threefold: 1) to facilitate integration and synthesis of existing programs and studies regionally and internationally; 2) to design collaborative research, education, and governance projects; and 3) to create partnerships that will utilize new informatics to produce linked, scalable models and methods that will better inform management decisions affecting the resilience of mountain landscapes.

May 16th, 2014

UM Receives $45M CEA

MISSOULA – The University of Montana has received a $45 million cooperative agreement award from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency announced May 16. The five-year research award is the largest in the history of UM.

Under the agreement, UM will help the Corps study and solve environmental and cultural resource problems across the nation. The University also will assist the Corps in implementing land and water ecological restoration, maintenance and training for optimal management of public resources.

F. Richard “Ric” Hauer is UM professor of freshwater science and systems ecology and directs the UM side of the Institute on Ecosystems, a statewide institute of the Montana University System. He will serve as program director and principal investigator of the cooperative agreement.

“Earning this award confirms that UM has become an elite research institution in the arena of ecology and environmental sciences,” Hauer said. “This will take our research enterprise to an even higher and exciting new level. It is a wonderful opportunity for our faculty, graduate students and post-docs.”

The award confirms UM’s ecological and cultural research status, said Scott Whittenburg, UM vice president for research and creative scholarship.

“When you look at a map of the United States and identify all the lead institutions doing environmental research, there should be a star next to Missoula and the University of Montana.”

During the past two decades, UM has become a world leader in conservation biology, ecology and ecosystem science, Hauer said. Recent publications in Science and Conservation Biology name UM one of five universities in the nation demonstrating the largest growth in high-impact science publications and also ranks in the top 10 among all North American universities in conservation biology and ecology.

“We are, without doubt, competitive with and even surpassing many of the largest and most prestigious universities in the nation in the area of ecological and cultural research,” Hauer said. “Our faculty members are among the best in the nation, indeed the world. I know our researchers demand the highest level of excellence of themselves and each other.”
Hauer has a long-standing relationship with the Corps, assisting the agency with many projects since 1992.

He helped the Corps develop the nationwide methodology and protocols for doing ecological assessments of rivers and wetlands. He also has taught classes for agency personnel on stream ecology and large-river ecosystems for the past 18 years.

Hauer said the work envisioned in the cooperative agreement may include topics such as the ecological effects of dams and reservoirs, environmental management problems, endangered species such as paddlefish or sturgeon, invasive species such as spotted knapweed or zebra mussels, water-quality issues, abandoned mine waste, Native American cultural sites, human health in the environment, and environmental policy and law.

“We have outstanding faculty members and state-of-the-art technology here at the University of Montana,” UM President Royce Engstrom said, “and it will be exciting to see how this significant award energizes and transforms our institution.”

Hauer will lead a research management team of 10 faculty members who already oversee a number of UM centers and academic programs. The team is divided into two divisions:
• Natural Resources with UM faculty Ragan Callaway, John Kimball, Winsor Lowe, Cara Nelson and Maury Valett.
• Cultural Resources with UM faculty Kelly Dixon, Andrij Holian, Elizabeth Metcalf, Jakki Mohr and Irma Russell.

“We plan to involve as many of the graduate programs across campus as possible to accomplish this important ecological and cultural research,” Hauer said. “It’s going to be varied, exciting work.”

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Research and creative scholarship from the University of Montana