Univeristy of Montana researcher Dr. Ric Hauer has been part of an interdisciplinary group of researchers who have identified gravel-bed river floodplains as some of the most important ecological habitats in North America. Working with a team of scientists to study the Yellowstone to Yukon ecoregion, Hauer has stated that gravel-bed river floodplains support more than 70% of the ecoregion’s bird species, and that large mammals need the floodplains for habitat, food, and migration corridors.
“If we think about the Flathead River, for example,” says Hauer, “flowing from British Columbia into the US and along the western edge of Glacier National Park, we might wrongly imaging that the river is only water flowing in the channel. But, these gravel-bed systems are so much more than that. The river flows over and through the entire floodplain system, from valley wall to valley wall, and supports an extraordinary diversity of life. The river is so much bigger than it appears to be at first glance.”
The group of scientists involved includes Hauer; Harvey Locke, co-founder of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative; UM professors Vicky Dreitz, Mark Hebblewhite, Winsor Lowe and Cara Nelson; Clint Muhlfeld, research aquatic ecologist from the U.S. Geological Survey; Professor Stewart Rood from University of Lethbridge; and biologist Michael Proctor of Birchdale Ecological.
Recently, the team published a paper titled “Gravel-Bed River Floodplains are the Ecological Nexus of Glaciated Mountain Landscapes” online for Science Advances. Learn more about the research and the importance of these ecological areas by visiting http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/6/e1600026 and reading more.
Hauer is the director of The Center for Integrated Research on the Environment (CIRE), a partner of the MT Institute on Ecosystems and the University of Montana.