What do you find most interesting about your research topic?
Everyone in Montana goes wild for huckleberries, though few realize the importance of huckleberries as a keystone species. These delicious berries play an integral role in the sustainability of many of the species that call the Swan Valley home, especially grizzly bears. Through experimental field plots, this research is helping to predict what will happen to this incredible plant species with different potential impacts of climate change. When we have a better understanding of what will happen to the huckleberry, we have a better understanding of how grizzly bears’ needs and ranges will shift, and how our management techniques will also need to shift to protect grizzlies by reducing the chances of grizzly-human conflicts.
How does citizen science support your research?
Unlike hands-on bear management, the study of huckleberry phenology requires botanical skills that can be quickly learned without risk, making it ideal for citizens who are eager to make contributions to the conservation of a charismatic endangered species—the grizzly bear. In our project, citizen scientists are able to not only contribute to an important dataset of basic botanical knowledge, but they are able to provide crucial information about how species connect across time and place. This on-the-ground knowledge informs efforts in public and private forest management across our landscape and is something that our volunteers can take home to inspire similar knowledge in their home ecosystems.
What is one of your favorite moments in the field?
My favorite moments in the field are simply the opportunities to share this beautiful landscape with engaged folks from all over the world. We are fortunate that we live and work in one of the last intact ecosystems on earth – something few people have the privilege of claiming. Having citizen scientists come from all over to explore and learn in this space is a beautiful reminder to cherish and protect this unique landscape.