MSU graduate students receive funding for environmental research

Graduate students in environmental science and related fields have earned awards from the Montana Institute on Ecosystems to research everything from bees to microbes to lodgepole pine.

The students are working with IoE faculty at Montana State University. Their awards, in amounts up to $1,000, will be used for research or to attend a professional meeting.

MSU graduate students receiving awards include: Edward Barge of Bozeman; Erin Shanahan of Bozeman; Anthony Slominski of Gaylord, Mich.; Kimberley Taylor of Portsmouth, R.I.; and Trista Vick-Majors of Calhan, Colo.

Barge will present his research on ecological patterns of the mushroom-producing fungus Lactarius at the Mycological Society of America meeting in East Lansing, Mich., June 7-12.

Barge's research has involved identifying species that occur above timberline on the Beartooth Plateau on the Montana/Wyoming border and in several Colorado mountain ranges. Fungi such as Lactarius provide a link between plants and the soil, supplying plants with nutrients and protection in exchange for photosynthetically derived carbon. The changing climate in arctic-alpine areas is influencing these unique ecosystems; ectomycorrhizal shrubs are expanding their range, and ectomycorrhizal fungal communities are sensitive to warming. Barge is a master's student in Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology.

Shanahan will present her research on whitebark pine at the International Union of Forest Research Organization conference in Ft. Collins, Colo., June 15-21.

She will present the status and health of whitebark pine in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem over the past eight years, including white pine blister rust infection, changes in blister rust severity, mortality of whitebark pine and factors that influence tree mortality. The information is a valuable component for management decisions across numerous national forests and several national parks. Shanahan is a graduate student in ecology at MSU.

Slominski’s research focuses on how climate change is impacting native bees and plants to understand how changes in plant-pollinator interactions could impact agricultural production and ecosystem health.

Native bees are extremely important pollinators of wild and crop plants, contributing to fruit and seed production by 90 percent of flowering plants and 75 percent of crops worldwide. However, some native bee populations are declining, causing concern that pollination services could be threatened. Slominski is a doctoral student in ecology and environmental science.

Taylor will research the patterns of lodgepole pine invasion. A tree species native to western North America, lodgepole pine has been introduced to the Southern Hemisphere, where it is highly invasive.

Lodgepole pine can also invade shrub-dominated sagebrush communities in Montana and Wyoming. Taylor will study the impacts of invasions on plant biodiversity and wildfire fuel loads, comparing invasions into grasslands and shrublands in the introduced ranges in New Zealand, Chile and Argentina to the results from the same studies in the native range in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Taylor is a doctoral student in ecology and environmental science.

Vick-Majors’ research focuses on microbial life in subglacial Lake Whillans, a shallow lake in western Antarctica.

Even though the lake lies beneath a half-mile of ice where it is isolated from sunlight and interaction with the present day atmosphere, it still supports active microbial communities. Vick-Majors will study whether microorganisms that oxidize ammonia are important primary producers in Subglacial Lake Whillans, in essence, acting as the plants of the subglacial lake ecosystem. She is a doctoral student in ecology and environmental science.

The Institute on Ecosystems is a multi-institutional community dedicated to understanding complex ecosystems and the interconnectedness of people and nature. It is also the flagship research program of Montana's National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant. Its internship and student awards programs support students who explore the effects of climate change in sustaining healthy ecosystems and economic growth. For more information, visit Follow progress of the research projects through Twitter at


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