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Climate change affects the ecology of the northern Rocky Mountains

Published On: 9/23/2014

 A recent NPR report described the northern Rocky Mountains as "the crown of the continent." The jewels of the crown are the glaciers and snowfields - and they are melting.

The relationship between water and ecology in the northern Rocky Mountains is being altered as the climate warms. Ric Hauer explained that spring snowmelt is starting earlier, and summer drought is becoming increasingly likely. Glaciers are shrinking and permanent streams are becoming ephemeral. Researchers have begun to understand the effects of these climate changes on wildlife. Joe Giersch from the US Geological Survey has been studying the stonefly, Lednia tumana, its role in the food web, and how populations are being squeezed up to the top of the mountain as glaciers melt. Further downstream at the Flathead Lake Biological Station, Jack Stanford reports that the effects of flash floods due to changes in seasonal weather patterns are observed in the food web. For example, salmon populations can be decimated by “rain on snow events” that cause floods, removing young salmon from the stream. These changes to the natural ecosystem are threatening some species and also affecting ranchers and farmers who have endured extended drought conditions.

Find out more about Joe Girsch in the latest In The Drift newsletter: https://www.freshwater-science.org/Other-Publications/Newsletter--In-The-Drift/ITD--Fall-2014.aspx#itdqna

Listen to the NPR report: http://www.npr.org/2014/08/27/341372550/theres-a-big-leak-in-americas-water-tower

Research paper:
Muhlfeld, Clint C, J. Joseph Giersch, F. Richard Hauer, Gregory T. Pederson, Gordon Luikart, Douglas P. Peterson, Christopher C. Downs, and Daniel B. Fagre. 2011. Climate change links fate of glaciers and an endemic alpine invertebrate. Climatic Change Letters. 106 (2), pp 337-345


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