Students study ecology of North Fork lakes

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The Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center in Glacier National Park hosted 45 students for the Glacier Lake Ecology BioBlitz on May 25 and 26.

The students were from Flathead and Columbia Falls high schools in Northwest Montana, De La Salle Collegiate High School from Warren, Michigan, and Luther College from Decorah, Iowa.

Students observed loons nesting, feeding, calling and interacting on lakes in the North Fork area of Glacier National Park.

Guest instructors Diana Six, an anthropologist from the University of Montana, and Kelly Franklin, a Systems Ecology Ph.D. student and intern with the Montana Geographic Alliance, taught the students about lake productivity and the role of diverse species in the lake ecology food web.

“The scientific data gathered by the students will contribute to the Common Loon Citizen Science Project and will be shared with the Montana Loon Society and the state of Montana’s Common Loon Working Group,” said Research Learning Center Director Tara Carolin.

“Montana has the largest population of common loons in the northwest continental U.S. and 20 percent of Montana’s population reproduce and summer in Glacier, so the data is very important to developing a strategy for long-term conservation of loons in Montana.”

Students sampled lakes for two days using survey techniques and ecological information learned in the course and found species including diving beetles, water stick insects, and, maybe the most remarkable (judging by student reactions) either a large leech or a garter snake in the vegetation.

Six and Franklin helped the students identify insect larvae and adults, amphibian egg masses, mollusks and crustaceans from the soil and surfaces of the lakes. Students recorded their findings using the iNaturalist app on their smartphones that contributed data to the 2016 National Parks BioBlitz event.

The project was supported by funding from the National Park Service and the Glacier National Park Conservancy.

The Lake Ecology BioBlitz is part of a larger effort coordinated by the National Park Service to celebrate the National Park Service Centennial. For more information on the Citizen Science program at Glacier National Park visit the website at Glacier’s Citizen Science Program.

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