Natural Resources Division

The Project Pricipal Investigators the faculty and staff from which they draw routinely conduct their research in aquatic and terrestrial field settings and systems.  The CIRE Director, and Natural Resources Pricipal Investigators and staff have extensive experience in natural resource data collection, management and support functions.  We have routinely worked with multiple federal agencies addressing regulatory implications of the Federal CAA, CWA, NEPA, and ESA.  The CIRE Natural Resources Division works directly with regional ecosystem management initiatives, habitat preservation efforts, and has experience with Native American tribes and working with Tribal Colleges.  Many of the peer-review journal articles generated by the Management Team directly address the issues of ecological management of land and water resources.

Climate Impacts, Remote Sensing, and GeoSpatial Modeling

CIRE conducts research and support activities addressing Climate Impacts, Remote Sensing and Geospatial Modeling.  CIRE capacity in this area includes modeling of the interface of hydrology and terrestrial ecology, including the study of climate impacts to water resources and ecosystems.  Our work involves all aspects of natural resource data collection and analysis, together with the design and application of airborne and satellite remote sensing for environmental data collection and monitoring.  These activities comprise forest and rangeland productivity, environmental trend analysis, vegetation health and biodiversity, and water quality.  We are particularly well versed in geospatial modeling and GIS for environmental prediction, risk, impact and mitigation assessment, and decision support.

Climate services provided through CIRE are wide-ranging: mapping of historical trends and future projections in environmental conditions; assessing local and regional impacts of extreme events and longer–term climate trends on forest and rangeland productivity, wildlife habitats, biodiversity and water quality; vulnerability and risk assessments in relation to critical habitats and other natural resources.  We employ the latest technologies in remote sensing, GIS, hydrological and ecosystem process modeling, and guided by detailed field surveys and monitoring networks for delineating environmental trends and impacts, and developing effective adaptation and mitigation strategies.

CIRE employs a wide array of remote sensing technologies supporting a diversity of cultural and natural resources data collection for environmental assessment and monitoring.  Remote sensing resources utilize ground-based, airborne and satellite sensors, including low frequency Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), multi-frequency Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and microwave radiometry, passive multispectral and hyperspectral optical-infrared and active LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) techniques.  Our team-of-experts deploy remote sensing resources with the spectral, spatial and temporal fidelity best suited for each application.  Remote sensing technologies are applied within a holistic framework integrating remote sensing data acquisitions in context with detailed ground surveys and station monitoring networks for sensor calibration, validation and interpretation.  Remote sensing data are frequently processed using sophisticated retrieval algorithms and environmental models for higher-level estimation of detailed biophysical properties and processes.  Remote sensing services include: regional mapping and monitoring of critical habitats; forest and rangeland productivity and biodiversity assessments; land cover classification, vegetation and invasive species mapping; vegetation stress and regional drought impacts; surface inundation, groundwater storage and water quality assessments; wildfire disturbance extent and recovery status.

CIRE employs a comprehensive range of technologies and activities for geospatial data collection, analysis and information management in support of natural resource applications and management.  These activities include the design, implementation and maintenance of remote weather station networks for environmental monitoring.  CIRE scientists and technicians also employ a variety of satellite and airborne remote sensing and geospatial modeling for regional assessment, monitoring and prediction of environmental conditions and impacts.  Remote sensing and environmental modeling are often integrated with detailed measurements from field surveys and sparse monitoring networks for spatial and temporal extrapolation and interpretation of environmental trends and regional impacts.  CIRE provides oversight and training in GIS database design and information management; data collection and environmental monitoring design.

CIRE provides a broad array of tools to assist and enable effective environmental planning and decision support.  These activities incorporate the design and use of sophisticated environmental models for simulating historical patterns and trends, and future conditions in context with dynamic vegetation, climate and land use factors, and management activities for effective risk and mitigation assessments.  Dynamic environmental models and outputs are frequently integrated with other geospatial data from remote sensing, regional surveys and monitoring networks within comprehensive GIS software database architectures.  The geospatial data are linked and analyzed using innovative software design and interactive web tools to facilitate data synthesis and interpretation in context with resource management needs.  CIRE offers education and training for these activities in accordance with Legacy Resource Management Program, DoD Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan and regional ecosystem management initiatives, including best practices for sustainable use of land and water resources, and innovative technologies for effective monitoring, education and training.

Ecological Restoration

CIRE conducts research and provides management support in Ecological Restoration.  CIRE capacity in this area is wide-ranging managing research and training related to the repair of degraded ecosystems, encompassing forests, grasslands, rivers, and wetlands.  The field of ecological restoration has matured considerably over the last three decades, growing from a relatively minor component of natural resource management to a dominant activity in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.  In the United States alone, it is now an over-81-billion-dollar-per-year industry.  As the scope and scale of restoration increases worldwide, there is a corresponding need for increased understanding of the effects of abiotic and biotic disturbance on ecosystem composition and function, the ecological goals of restoration, the efficacy and effects of restoration practices, and best practices for solving the complex challenges of restoring ecosystems in an era of rapid environmental change.  Accordingly, the CIRE program in ecological restoration is focused on research and training to improve the quality of restoration practice in the United States and across the globe.

Ecological restoration increases understanding of the effects of disturbance, including climate change, biological invasions, and management activities, on ecosystems.  We assess and assist in the understanding of the effects of environmental change from landscape to population scale.

At its heart, ecological restoration requires eliminating degradation and reassembling ecosystems.  We address key research areas within this theme, including the factors that affect ecosystem assembly, the characteristics of ecosystems, and threshold dynamics.  In this program we assist managers in setting appropriate goals for ecological restoration and in prioritizing areas for restoration treatments.

We assist managers concerning the efficacy and effects of their restoration practices.  The CIRE ecological restoration program conducts large scale assessments of the success of restoration practices, meeting project goals, and evaluating unintended consequences.

The CIRE ecological restoration program may assess novel approaches for ecological monitoring, including the use of innovative sampling approaches and statistical methods.  This work will assist practitioners and managers interested in assessing the adequacy of their monitoring programs.

We provide training for ecological restoration science and practice.  We assist restoration practitioners, at both early and later stages in their careers, to benefit from training in specialized areas; such as, developing effective monitoring programs and developing appropriate reference models for restoration.

Fish and Wildlife Resources

Stewardship of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife on lands and waters of the US (such as those under USACE jurisdiction) is central to the mission of CIRE.  We fulfill that mission by drawing on the expertise of CIRE Associate Directors and the faculty at the University of Montana, as well as the network of fish and wildlife scientists within the Institute on Ecosystems.  Scientists in our network offer expertise with a wide range of taxa, including large mammalian herbivores and carnivores, forest and grassland birds, native fishes and amphibians, and aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates.  CIRE provides approaches to management and protection of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife in lands and waters within the scope of the Land Resource Management Plan and regional ecosystem management initiatives, as well as expertise in analyses of wildlife population viability, critical habitat, population connectivity, genetic structure, biodiversity surveys, and impact assessment for a wide range of human activities (e.g., residential and industrial development, environmental pollution, water regulation, non-native species introductions).

We have broad expertise in sampling and analyses for detecting population trends in terrestrial and aquatic species, allowing us to design effective monitoring and recovery strategies.  These methods identify crucial life history stages (e.g., juvenile vs. adult) and demographic rates (e.g., survival vs. reproduction), and estimate rates of movement through complex, multi-use landscapes.  Using this information, we are able to target management and conservation actions to individual species and geographic areas.

We use next generation genomic techniques to implement both time-tested and cutting-edge analyses of population genetics and evolutionary processes in terrestrial and aquatic wildlife.  We have the expertise and infrastructure to conduct management-relevant population genetic analyses, including estimation of spatial population structure, rates of gene flow among populations, and variation in genetic diversity.  We also use genome-wide, high-resolution data and analyses to identify functional genes and evolutionary processes critical to species persistence in the face of environmental change.

CIRE teams assess the effects of environmental conditions on the physiology and performance of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife.  We monitor wildlife populations for physiological response to human activities and other environmental changes using both invasive and non-invasive sampling techniques (e.g., blood vs. fecal samples).  We use this information on individual physiological responses to predict population-level consequences and to identify effective mitigation strategies.

CIRE teams conduct operations to assess, prevent, and control exotic invasive animals that threaten terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.  These operations include the design and implementation of protocols for early detection of invasion from neighboring lands, and for the elimination of established invaders.

We identify critical habitat for terrestrial and aquatic wildlife, quantify spatial and temporal patterns of habitat use, and develop landscape-level management plans to preserve critical habitat and connectivity among habitat patches.  These analyses use methods from other service areas, including GIS and remote sensing, demography, population genetics, and physiological ecology.  In addition, CIRE conducts focused research on home ranges, fine-scale habitat composition and use, and the processes that maintain key habitat components (e.g., floods, fire, keystone species).

Forests, Rangelands, and Terrestrial Invasive Species

The CIRE research and management support program in Forests, Rangelands, and Terrestrial Invasive Species has extensive experience and expertise that spans a wide range of biology, and encompassing the areas of botany, ecophysiology, microbial ecology, field experimentation, restoration, biogeography, ecosystem productivity, and terrestrial plant invasions.  CIRE research and management capacity is particularly well versed in biogeographic comparisons of the ecology of invaders in their native vs. non-native ranges and the control of invasive species.  Natural resource management initiatives within CIRE involve the terrestrial ecological management of lands within the scope of the Land and Resource Management Plan.  CIRE teaches courses and short courses, workshops and training in regional ecosystem management, such as habitat preservation and invasive plant species control.

We conduct operations to assess, prevent, and control exotic invasive plants that threaten terrestrial and wetland ecosystems.

We mobilize efforts to reestablish native plant communities and renew ecological functions on landscapes that have been degraded, damaged, and/or invaded by exotic species.  These actions include, but are not limited to, erosion control, reforestation, use of local genotypes, removal of weeds, re-vegetation, and reintroduction of native-targeted species.  Restoration processes employ planning, implementation, monitoring, and management.

We have the capacity to analyze how soil microbes and changes to the soil microbial community are affected by land use practices.  We also provide analysis of damage and means to utilize soil biota in restoration processes.

CIRE teams collect, analyze, and synthesize natural resource information in the context of integrated natural resource inventories and monitoring.  This information can then be used in the context of planning, management, and decision making.

We conduct basic ecological and ecosystem monitoring and restoration at the sensitive interface between terrestrial and wetland boundaries.  We work to retain the characteristic soil and hydrology of wetlands and wetland/terrestrial ecotones, and reclaim their natural functions.

CIRE teams collect, analyze, and synthesize natural resource information in the context of integrated natural resource inventories and monitoring.  This information can then be used in the context of planning, management, and decision making.

We employ a wide range of data management opportunities, including compilation in Access databases that will be managed at the University of Montana and maintained on University of Montana departmental servers.  Data are made electronically accessible to all participants.

The Legacy Resource Management Program assists Department of Defense efforts to preserve our natural and cultural heritage while supporting military readiness.  We have capacity to involve regional ecosystem management initiatives and develop management protocols for habitat preservation and invasive species control.

Water Resources and Aquatic Invasive Species

The CIRE research and management support program in Water Resources and Aquatic Invasive Species has extensive experience in aquatic ecosystem management specializing in freshwater systems: lakes, reservoirs, streams, rivers, groundwater systems, and floodplain riverscapes.  CIRE works on applied and theoretical aspects of ecosystem nutrient cycling and energy flow.  Water resource management includes practical understanding of how ecosystems resist and recover from human effects associated with water diversion, dams, flooding, agriculture, mining and mine contamination, urban development, and water pollution.  CIRE provides particular expertise on freshwater ecological issues involving the Clean Water Act, freshwater invasive species, mitigation/management strategies for meeting federal, state and local environmental stewardship laws and regulations.  CIRE teaches courses/short courses, workshops, and training in freshwater ecology and management.

CIRE’s Water Resources and Aquatic Invasive Species Control program provides professional scientific assessment of aquatic ecosystems: streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, floodplains, aquifers, and estuaries.  We conduct ecosystem analysis imbedded in assessment of existing disturbance regimes and future threats [physical (floods, droughts), chemical (spills, contamination), or biological (toxins, species invasions)].  Our team provides assessment of water quality, ecosystem energetics, nutrient cycling, hydrologic characterization, and aquatic invasive species control.

Ecosystems are continuously influenced by disturbance of natural and anthropogenic origin.  The CIRE Water Resources and Aquatic Invasive Species Control personnel have a long history of characterizing how disturbances influence basic ecosystem form and function and discovering how ecosystems resist and recover from disturbance.  Our program identifies mechanisms of resistance and resilience that are key components of stability in all ecosystems.  Using robust measures of ecological organization and key processes research on ecosystem stability leads to better managed systems with great ecological integrity.

We assist in compliance and monitoring of water quality parameters to address a broad range of environmental conditions and requirements.  These approaches focus on meeting federal and state water quality standards established by regulatory authorities and include biological, physical, and chemical properties that serve as critical vital signs for ecosystem health.

Ecosystem metabolism is fundamental to the functioning of aquatic ecosystems.  Our program has expertise in measuring rates of primary production (P) and respiration (R) as measures of the production and consumption of organic matter within ecosystems.  When coupled to exchange (i.e., import and export) with surrounding systems (e.g., groundwater, floodplains, estuaries) these measure and describe the fate of materials within any system.  These approaches are fundamental for material budgets to document the amount, compilation and turnover of material and development of Total Maximum Daily Loads.

Our program specializes in nutrient cycling in aquatic ecosystems with emphasis on the translocation, transport, and transformation of nitrogen and phosphorus.  Our expertise also extends into other associated biogeochemical cycles including those for iron, sulfur, and other heavy metals and metaloids.

Our program is a leader in characterizing, quantifying, and modeling the hydrologic features of integrated surface and subsurface ecosystems.  We utilize coupled hydrologic tracers and hydrometrics to characterize flow paths and fields that couple rivers, aquifers, standing water, and downstream environments.

Assessing, managing, and mitigating invasive aquatic species is a critical aspect of CIRE services.  We use solid scientific data to address the distribution, abundance, and movement of aquatic species and implement innovative techniques to improve and restore water bodies infested by invasive aquatic species.

Wetland delineation and assessment, including the Hydrogeomorphic (HGM) Approach to Assessing Wetland Functions, is a central service provided by our program.  Our combined expertise provides the tools and approaches required to assess interrelationships among physical, chemical, and biological components of wetland environments to understand fundamental aspects of ecological form and function in wetland ecosystems.  CIRE Director Dr. Hauer served on the original HGM development National Team (Brinson, Hauer and others 1995).