The loss of glaciers in Glacier National Park is iconic of the global impacts of climate warming in mountain ecosystems. Little is known about how climate change may threaten the unique assemblage of invertebrate species restricted to short sections of cold water below glaciers and permanent snowfields in Glacier National Park. Two of these species have already been petitioned for protection under the Endangered Species Act due to climate change-induced glacier loss, and others are likely just as imperiled.
Alpine aquatic invertebrate communities are some the best early indicators of the effects of climate change, and understanding how they and their habitats are likely to respond to this rapid change is critical for conservation management and adaptation planning for freshwater systems. In 2016, the Conservancy provided funding to collect invertebrate community and genetics samples as well as alpine stream habitat data to investigate the impacts of glacier and snow loss on the biodiversity, distribution, and genetic diversity of poorly known, coldwater dependent alpine aquatic invertebrates in Glacier.
Funding for this project will continue the research in 2017 and will not only serve as a worldwide model for understanding the impacts of climate warming on mountaintop species and ecosystems, it also will inform policy and management decisions as well as design long-term monitoring programs. In addition, the work will provide additional opportunities for visitors, through public brownbag presentations, social media outreach, interactive online maps, as well as providing park staff with the tools to convey the holistic view of climate induced changes to Glacier’s aquatic species through hands-on training and compelling photos and video. This will increase awareness for visitors, advocates, and supporters alike, regarding the global impacts of climate change realized and experienced at a local scale.