Accessible Navigation. Go to: Navigation Main Content Footer

UM Professor Named Guggenheim Fellow

University of Montana wildlife biology Professor L. Scott Mills has been named a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow by the board of trustees of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Fellows are appointed annually by the foundation on the basis of impressive achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment. The 180 winners this year were chosen from 3,000 applicants from all areas of the sciences, arts and scholarship. 

Mills is the only recipient this year from Montana. He joins the ranks of two other recent UM Guggenheim Fellowship recipients: Associate Professor Judy Blunt in 2006 and Associate Professor Debra Magpie Earling in 2007.

“It is an incredible honor to be awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship that unexpectedly puts me in the rarified air of the country’s top scientists, scholars and artists,” Mills said. “It speaks highly of the world-class status we have here at The University of Montana in the Wildlife Biology Program and the College of Forestry and Conservation.”

A major focus during his fellowship period, Mills said, will be to help build local capacity to incorporate ecological science into conservation planning in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. 

He will spend about half a year living in Bhutan working with the government and educators to share some of the ecological knowledge he and his UM colleagues have developed for studying wildlife. That research, Mills expects, will lead to breakthrough perspectives into how ecological science can be made most useful, not only in Bhutan, but also throughout the world.

“The arc of my career has been a thrilling ride spanning basic and applied ecology, and I am excited to be asked to apply it to help build local scientific capacity in a country as biologically and culturally rich as Bhutan,” Mills said.

Mills has dedicated more than 20 years to motivating students, conducting research and inspiring people about the natural world and the interplay between science and conservation. 

Since his arrival at UM in 1995, he has expanded his ecology and genetics research to determine how that research can be used for conservation practices. His research species and systems have ranged from marmots and coyotes in Olympic National Park, to endangered bighorn sheep in the California Sierra Nevada, to fruit bats in the Philippines, to snow leopards in Bhutan and snowshoe hares across North America.

For the past decade, he has directed teams of biologists and students to investigate snowshoe hares on more than 35 study sites in Montana, Wyoming and Washington. A defense against predators for snowshoe hares is to change color, and that change is triggered through daylight length, Mills said.

“The Guggenheim Fellowship will also help me develop an international project to investigate whether camouflage can keep up with climate change,” he said. “The focus will be on snowshoe hares in North America and other mammals in Europe and the Himalayas that are faced with the prospect of evolving changes in the timing of their seasonal coat color – from brown to white – even as the number of days of snow cover decreases.”