Ecological diversity studied in floodplains

Flathead Lake Biological Station awarded grant to study ecological diversity

The University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station has been awarded a $2 million grant to study diversity among insects, crustaceans and other arthropods in river floodplains and how they might be affected by climate change.

The four-year, National Science Foundation award went to researcher Gordon Luikart and co-investigators Jack Stanford and Brian Hand. The funding is provided through the NSF Dimensions of Biodiversity program.

River floodplains are among the most diverse yet endangered landscapes on Earth due to human encroachment, shifts in river flow regimes and climate change, Luikart said. Floodplain habitats, including river channel networks and underground aquifers, support diverse invertebrate communities, but the biodiversity within them hasn’t been extensively studied yet.

He said the project will use novel genomic tools and modeling frameworks to assess the genetics, populations and functional trait diversity among floodplain arthropods. Researchers will study floodplains in Montana’s Crown of the Continent ecosystem, as well as Washington’s Methow drainage, in collaboration with Amanda DelVecchia (Allegheny College) and U.S. Geological Survey biologists Clint Muhlfeld and Joe Giersch.

“This research will build upon 40 years of work by our former station director Jack Stanford and colleagues at the biostation, who intensively studied the Nyack floodplain on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River near Glacier National Park,” Luikart said.

The grant also will train a new generation of high school students, college students and public citizen scientists about floodplain biodiversity and environments through “bioblitzes” – intensive, 24-hour, sampling events that may discover new species. Volunteers also will be involved in seasonal sampling throughout the year.
UM’s Flathead Lake Biological Station is one of the oldest active biological field research stations in the United States. It was established near Bigfork in 1899 and moved to Flathead Lake’s Yellow Bay in 1908. The station conducts multiple college courses, graduate programs, workshops and research on everything from genes to landscapes ranging from the Crown of the Continent ecosystem to those in Yellowstone and China.

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