Here at Five Valleys, our conservation easements are designed to last forever. That fact, and our strong partnerships with Montana's universities, are providing research sites for the next generation of plant ecologists to cut their teeth.
Five different research groups, from both the University of Montana in Missoula and Montana State University in Bozeman, have conducted research on three different Five Valleys easements. Their plant ecology research ranges in focus from the delicate soil crust communities to seed predation by rodents to the results of herbicides sprayed on both noxious and native plants.
University of Montana's Division of Biological Sciences professor John Maron is researching how ecologically similar species of plants can co-exisist without overshadowing each other. Funded by a National Science Foundation grant, Professor Maron's work extends over 10 different grassland sites that include two different Five Valleys conservation easements: the Shaffer-Perelman conservation easement near Ovando and the Peterson Angus Ranch conservation easement near Drummond.
Three University of Montana PhD students are also conducting research on the Peterson Angus Ranch. Ryan Hegstad, under Professor Maron, is studying the conditions under which seed predation by rodents affects the abundance of a native forb, blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata). Ryan is working across a suite of sites that vary in soil moisture and plant productivity. The Peterson Ranch represents the dry end of this spectrum.
Andreas Eleftheriou, a PhD student in the UM's College of Forestry and Conservation program, is studying the effects of stress and biodiversity on the prevalence of pathogens in wildlife species. His dissertation research focuses on the relationship between deer mice and the Sin Nombre virus, which causes the human respiratory disease hantavirus. Andreas is studying the deer mouse-Sin Nombre virus system as a model for other disease systems.
Mandy Slate, a PhD student under professor Ray Callaway, is studying the delicate communities of soil crusts on the Peterson Angus Ranch. Biological soil crusts are a highly specialized community of cyanobacteria, mosses, and lichens found in arid regions where plant cover is generally sparse. Soil crust communities vary with moisture. In the driest environments, lichens dominate soil crust communities. On the Peterson Angus Ranch, soil crust communities are dominated by mosses. Mandy is interested in understanding how soil crust communities influence the establishment of both native species and non-native species, and how disturbance of soil crust communities changes these relationships.
To the east, near Missoula, Jane Mangold, a professor of Montana State University's Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences recently completed a study on our North Hills-Allied Waste conservation easement. Jane and her colleagues, Stacy Davis and Noelle Orloff, studied how spraying herbicide on a noxious weed population affected the abundance of both the noxious weed and the native plant communities around it, one and two years post-spraying. Overall, Jane’s study shows that these noxious weeds can be effectively controlled for one or two years following a single herbicide application, and that the native grassland communities can be fairly resilient to a single herbicide application.
A big thank you to the conservation easement landowners who generously allowed these researchers to use their properties! Five Valleys looks forward to the scientists, and the discoveries, our easements bring us in contact with in the future.