Citizen Scientists help study effects of climate on elk foraging patterns

A group of citizen scientists braved foul weather to help learn about the impact of climate change on elk in the Upper Yellowstone River Basin. Nine volunteers endured rain and wind on an early Saturday morning in September to pick up elk scat samples at the Dome Mountain Wildlife Management Area in Paradise Valley.


The event attracted several families who worked together on teams collecting data. One participant commented, “My kids and I have only been to a handful of events where we had so much fun learning and being a part of relevant science in our area.”


The project was designed to help Montana State University graduate student Erica Garroutte gather data on how climate change may be affecting the timing of grassland greenup and, in turn, elk foraging patterns. Garroutte is working with her advisor, MSU faculty member and Montana Institute on Ecosystems researcher Andy Hansen, to analyze the samples for their levels of chlorophyll. 


The data gathered will help Garroutte to determine whether elk are changing their migration and grazing patterns. It will also allow her to check the reliability of satellite reflectance photos (taken by an instrument on a NASA satellite called MODIS) to predict where elk are moving.


IoE affiliates who want to discuss developing a citizen science project can contact Jamie Cornish at



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