A New Kind of Institute

Glacier National Park photo by Rick and Susie Graetz

It’s like nothing else in the United States.

The Montana Institute on Ecosystems studies the large landscapes and riverscapes of Big Sky Country and how they will be affected by environmental change, whether that change is in land use, climate or our forests, grasslands or water. Other environmental centers around the nation are based at a single institution, but the IoE employs the resources of the entire Montana University System to achieve its goals. It’s a new statewide model for research centers, and Montana is leading the way.

Formed in 2011, the institute is co-directed by Professors Ric Hauer of the University of Montana and Cathy Whitlock of Montana State University. Its start-up funding is from a five-year, $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, as well as a $4 million state match.

More than 250 faculty members from across Montana, including those at tribal and two-year colleges, are IoE affiliates. Their research covers everything from the changing hydrologic regimes of floodplains to environmental policy and law.

“Our work encompasses a wide spectrum of research, from the natural sciences all the way to the cultural, human end of how people interact with their environment,” Hauer says. “This special edition of Research View will offer a taste of what we do here at UM, but the IoE truly enhances science across the entire state.”

The institute offers research and internship opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students. Fellowships and stipends are available to attract the best and brightest graduate students to Montana. The IoE also works to foster interdisciplinary research, creating connections among researchers across campus and between campuses. In addition, it works to ensure scientists have the proper cyberinfrastructure to compete with the rest of the world.

“How do we respond to environmental change so that it leads to economic and lifestyle sustainability for the state of Montana?” Hauer asks. “That is the big question for the Institute on Ecosystems.”

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