Scientific Research

From climate and wildlife to citizen science and vegetation, Glacier is a thriving laboratory home to over 1200 plant species, 240 bird species and 65 species of native mammals. Its habitat extends well beyond the park’s borders, making the Crown of the Continent one of the most biologically intact ecosystems in North America. The Conservancy funds scientific research on priority issues that help us understand Glacier and inform conservation decisions that protect Glacier’s future.

Projects That Need Your Support

Lynx / Kent Miller

Survey Glacier’s Lynx Population Year II

Funding Needed: $106,500 *FULLY FUNDED*

Did you know that a lynx can spot a single mouse from 250 feet away? This mysterious cat, known as the “shadow of the forest,” has been rarely studied in Glacier. This landmark study will change that by providing critical, actionable science about the distribution, habitat use and travel patterns of lynx throughout the park. This work is particularly critical as the Canada lynx is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and will likely be heavily impacted by climate change, especially at the southern limit of their range, which includes Glacier.

Mountain chickadee / NPS

Glacier’s Birds

Establishing a Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) Station

Funding Needed: $24,100

Great Gray and Boreal Owl Surveys

Funding Needed: $11,000

Black Swifts: Monitoring and Sharing Results

Funding Needed: $23,006

These three projects represent a strong commitment to state-of-the-art research on species of concern that, in many ways, define Glacier Park.

Bison and Elk / Donnie Sexton

The Iinnii Initiative: Monitoring Impacts to Elk Herds

Funding Needed: $70,750

This landmark project to restore native bison on Blackfeet tribal lands is moving forward with the hope that one of the two ungulates no longer present on Glacier’s landscape can return in the next few years. Before that can happen, research into the potential impacts needs to be completed. This project represents the second year of a three-year research effort to determine any impacts on existing habitat including the elk population of the reintroduction of bison.

Grizzly grazing / Arthur T. LaBar

Grizzly Bear Diet Study: Cutworm Moths Year II

Funding Needed: $121,590

This funding will complete the critical two-year study that is providing important information about the dietary habits of Glacier’s grizzly bear population. Perhaps surprisingly, data shows the army cutworm moth can represent as much as 50% of a bear’s annual caloric intake.

Kayaker on Lake McDonald Kayaker on Lake McDonald / NPS

Lake McDonald Water Quality Assessment

Funding Needed: $12,000

Last studied over 30 years ago, the water quality of the park’s most iconic and heavily visited body of water is due for an updated scientific evaluation. Thankfully, one of the world’s premier research institutions, the Flathead Lake Biological Station, conducted an earlier study (Ellis et al. 1992) and will partner with Glacier to evaluate and report on the raw water quality data. If changes have occurred since the earlier data was collected, the park will evaluate solutions to the situation.

Spotted Coralroot Orchid / NPS

Rare Plant Monitoring

Funding Needed: $4,000 *FULLY FUNDED*

Glacier is home to 16 species of rare plants identified as “sensitive” by the Montana Natural Heritage Program. But if you think “sensitive” is scientific code for “obscure”, you would be making a common mistake. This list of species of concern include such iconic parts of the park’s landscape as the Glacier Poppy and the Velvetleaf Huckleberry. This research will be critical in providing baseline data related to help leaders respond to potential long-term climate change related impacts to critical native plant species.

Documenting vegetation in St. Mary / NPS

Two Dog Flats Native Plant Recovery

Funding Needed: $7,500

Some of the most compelling imagery captured by visitors to Glacier is at Two Dog Flats on the Going to the Sun Highway. Elk, Bears and magnificent wildflowers provide a picturesque panorama under which lay a troubling problem: noxious weeds. In order to preserve this important area for the enjoyment of future generations, this project will establish research plots in Two Dog Flats to determine the effects of continual herbicide treatment on native vegetation and soils. Treatment plots will be created to assess the success of native plant reintroduction into these disturbed areas, including hand seeding as well as installation of containerized plant materials. The results will provide significant scientific data to assist with fighting invasive weeds in the most ecologically sustainable manner.

Scientists testing water / NPS

Detecting rare alpine insects using environmental DNA (eDNA)

Funding Needed: $21,784

Glacier is the perfect laboratory to research many rare aquatic species that are specially adapted to life in very cold water. As glaciers shrink due to climate change, stream temperatures are warming. Warming water temperatures have catastrophic implications for the communities that rely on cold alpine stream habitats. Two rare alpine aquatic species, the meltwater stonefly and the western glacier stonefly, are proposed for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to climate change induced glacier loss. Monitoring the distribution of the ESA petitioned stoneflies, as well as other rare alpine and glacial stream species, is essential to assess the effects of a changing climate on Glacier’s unique native biodiversity. This project uses environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling to detect and monitor the meltwater stonefly and western glacier stonefly to monitor the health of native alpine aquatic communities facing the effects of global climate change. The use of eDNA sampling is an exciting emerging technology—a powerful, noninvasive, and cost-effective method of detecting target aquatic organisms by analyzing DNA found in water samples.

Citizen scientists documenting mountain goat sightings

Wildlife Sighting Notebook

Funding Needed: $3,100

First created in 2012 through a partnership with the then Glacier Fund, this handy notebook is a critical tool that facilitates staff and volunteers recording of real-time wildlife sightings in field situations. With supplies of the 2012 printing now exhausted, and new parameters for recording, a 2020 version of the Wildlife Sighting Notebook will be a valuable addition to efficient and effective information gathering in the park.

Bighorn Sheep / NPS

Bighorn Sheep Movements: Effects of Roads, Trails, and Habitat

Funding Needed: $45,000

This project leverages significant existing bighorn sheep GPS collar research by the U.S. Geological Survey (2001-2011) to significantly enhance the actionable knowledge base about migrations of the park’s majestic bighorn sheep population. Specifically, it will support a groundbreaking “cost” analysis that allows for conservation and protection of preferred movement areas. This is particularly important given the threat of respiratory disease which can decimate bighorn populations. This park-specific work will continue a cooperative partnership with Montana State University on a statewide study of bighorn sheep.