Category Archives: Science

Steve Gniadek receives Conservation Achievement Recognition award

Steve Gniadek in “the Bob”, July 30, 2014
Steve Gniadek in “the Bob”, July 30, 2014

NFPA member Steve Gniadek received a well-deserved Conservation Achievement Recognition award from the Flathead Audubon Society recently. There’s a nice write-up on their web site, where you’ll likely learn some things about Steve you never knew . . .

We are excited to present our first 2017 Conservation Achievement Recognition to Steve Gniadek who is clearly one of the most dedicated conservation-minded people in the Flathead. Steve, who has assimilated extensive and diverse wildlife experiences throughout his career, is now a happily retired wildlife biologist living in the Flathead Valley. But Steve is no ordinary retiree, he is one of those passionate and committed individuals who believes that his fortunate and exciting life of public service requires that he continue to give back his time and energy to the local community.

Read more . . .

What light pollution costs us every night

The Milky Way near the Grand Canyon - Bob Wick, BLM
The Milky Way near the Grand Canyon – Bob Wick, BLM

Astrophysicist and science writer Ethan Siegel has a great article on the importance and increasing rarity of dark skies. It’s a short read, but very informative, with lots of photos and data. Recommended reading . . .

If you don’t have pristine, dark skies, you might never connect to the Universe. But there’s hope.

Human vision is ill-adapted to true darkness, but our eyes can provide us with stellar views of the night sky. Since the invention of artificial lighting, however, our views of those natural wonders have diminished precipitously.

Read more . . .

How a guy from a Montana trailer park overturned 150 years of biology

Lichen on blue rock along American River, Folsom, CA
Lichen on blue rock along American River, Folsom, CA

Here’s a fascinating story from The Atlantic magazine.

Remember learning about lichens in high school or college biology? Turns out, you learned it wrong. Sort of. And a persistent fellow from Montana proved it . . .

In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and home-schooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.

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Chuck Jonkel, world-renowned bear expert and advocate, dies at 85

Chuck Jonkel
Chuck Jonkel

This is truly the end of an era. Chuck Jonkel passed away Tuesday at age 85.

Rob Chaney of the Missoulian wrote a first-rate obituary. Recommended reading . . .

Grizzly bears emerging from their winter dens will encounter a changed landscape: Longtime grizzly advocate Chuck Jonkel has died.

“Mr. Jonkel was truly a pioneer in grizzly bear science,” said Leanne Marten, Regional Forester for the Forest Service’s Northern Region. “Montana will miss him greatly. Everything we know about grizzly bears is due to Mr. Jonkel’s expertise.”

Jonkel died Tuesday evening at his home in Missoula. He was 85.

“Tim Ryan from the Flathead Reservation came down on Monday and did a Salish smoke ceremony for Dad, and then (Blackfeet singer) Jack Gladstone and Patty Bartlett sang him off on Tuesday morning,” son Jamie Jonkel said. “We took him down by the river for the ceremony, and he really liked that.”

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‘Plants of Inland and Coastal Wet Belts’ presentation on April 20, 7pm

April 20, 2016 - Plants of Inland and Coastal Wet Belts

The Flathead Chapter of the Montana Native Plant Society presents a talk by Rachel Potter on ‘Plants of Inland and Coastal Wet Belts’ on Wednesday, April 20 at 7:00 pm in the North Valley Community Building 235 Nucleus Ave, Columbia Falls . . .

Rachel Potter, founder of Glacier National Park’s Native Plant Nursery and Revegetation Program, will share pictures and stories from kayak and canoe trips to British Columbia’s Bowron Lakes Provincial Park and southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Her program will be part travelogue and part plants.

Rachel’s program will begin promptly at 7:00 pm. Prior to her program, a general board meeting will take place, starting at 5:30. All are welcome to this general meeting. Both will take place at North Valley Community Building (Teakettle Hall) – look for the North Valley Physical Therapy sign, 235 Nucleus Ave, Columbia Falls.

Bear hibernation linked to changes in gut microbes

Grizzly Bear - Thomas Lefebvre, via Unsplash
Grizzly Bear – Thomas Lefebvre, via Unsplash

Two years ago, we mentioned the weird stuff that goes on when bears hibernate. Here’s another article along those lines . . .

Each year, bears hibernate for the winter. They gorge themselves on food to pack on fat, but somehow avoid health consequences. Now, scientists have found that the bears’ shifting metabolic status is associated with significant changes in their gut microbes.

“The restructuring of the microbiota into a more avid energy harvester during summer, which potentially contributes to the increased adiposity gain without impairing glucose metabolism, is quite striking,” said Fredrik Backhed, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The composition of gut microbiota can influence the amount of energy harvested from the diet. In fact, microbiota shifts in people who are obese and in those with type 2 diabetes.

In this latest study, the researchers collected fecal samples from wild bears during hibernation and in the active period. Then, the researchers analyzed the microbes living within these sample. The scientists found reduced diversity in the hibernation microbiota…

Read more . . .

A still-growing El Niño set to bear down on U.S.

Global view of El Niño 2005 compared to El Niño 1997

Here’s the latest from NASA on the looming El Niño weather pattern building in the Pacific . . .

The current strong El Niño brewing in the Pacific Ocean shows no signs of waning, as seen in the latest satellite image from the U.S./European Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 mission.

El Niño 2015 has already created weather chaos around the world. Over the next few months, forecasters expect the United States to feel its impacts as well.

The latest Jason-2 image bears a striking resemblance to one from December 1997, by Jason-2’s predecessor, the NASA/Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) Topex/Poseidon mission, during the last large El Niño event. Both reflect the classic pattern of a fully developed El Niño…

Read more . . .

North American ecosystem shift 6,000 years ago caused by humans

Terraced Farming

I’m not sure if the study referenced in this review has a solid statistical basis or not, but the findings certainly are fascinating. Researchers claim to have found evidence for an abrupt ecosystem shift in North America (!) triggered by the arrival of humans dependent on agriculture . . .

For the past 6,000 years, human beings have been having an extreme effect on the distribution of animals and plants across the globe, some of which had been in place for up to 300 million years, to the point that some species are more segregated from others than they have ever been. A research team from the Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems (ETE) program, led by S. Kathleen Lyons, performed a study that looked deeper into plants’ and animals’ distribution across the landscapes of the planet through fossil records.

The shift has been so dramatic that the team discovered that the consequences of a shift like this could usher in a new stage in global evolution equivalent to that of the evolution of complex organisms from single-cell microbes, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

The team decided to focus on locating patterns among plants and animals, filtering out the relationships that could be classified merely as chance. They looked at two types of relationships – pairs and segregations – to find these patterns. Pairs would include animals that occur together, like cheetahs and giraffes, which are often found in the same areas, while segregations would include animals that are not present when another is.

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‘When it comes to El Niños, there are no identical twins’

1997 vs 2015 El Niño Conditions

Here is a nuanced, informative discussion of the looming 2015 El Niño from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory . . .

El Niño: An unusually warm pool of water off the west coast of South America, usually arriving around Christmas time, linked with complex, large-scale interactions between the atmosphere and ocean in the Pacific.

If you live anywhere El Niño has important impacts, you’ve heard forecasters say this year’s event looks just like the monster El Niño of 1997-98. NASA satellite images of the Pacific Ocean in November 1997 and November 2015 show almost identical, large pools of warm water in the eastern equatorial Pacific. The National Weather Service has forecast that impacts this winter will resemble those in 1997, when California and the South suffered floods, mudslides and tornadoes, while residents of the Upper Midwest saved $2 billion to $7 billion in heating costs throughout their unusually warm winter.

When it comes to El Niños, however, there are no identical twins. This year’s event hasn’t always resembled the ’97 one. Satellite observations from early ’97 and early ’15 show conditions in the Pacific Ocean that were, well, oceans apart.

Read more . . .

Genetic research gives insight into Greater Yellowstone foxes

Here’s some interesting research about foxes which, I was surprised to learn, are relatively recent arrivals on this continent . . .

Blame the snow and cold.

Thanks to nasty winters, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, including the Beartooth Mountains, have become a genetic island for Rocky Mountain red foxes.

That’s one of the findings from research that Patrick Cross conducted over two years while spending finger-numbing winter days in the Beartooth Mountains trapping the native high-elevation foxes. Cross, a University of Montana graduate student in systems ecology, was working with the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center. For his research, Cross had hypothesized that the foxes may be genetically different from those found in nearby Yellowstone National Park. Instead, he found that the two populations are related.

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