Current Research

Food Web Complexity Projects

Trophic Cascades Involving Humans, Keystone Predators, Elk, and Aspen in North-Central Colorado on the High Lonesome Ranch

In this ten-year study, High Lonesome Institute researchers are investigating how large keystone predators affect whole ecosystems including elk, deer, smaller predators, songbirds, and the aspen communities that sustain them, and how these effects vary over time and space. Little is known about food webs on working livestock ranches in the West. We are measuring deer and elk behavior, biodiversity, and aspen health to learn about these relationships. Related studies on vegetation, wildlife, and landscape features will help inform land-use planning, wildlife management and the creation of sustainable, local economies. This research is benefitting from collaborations with state and federal natural resources agencies.

Cristina Eisenberg, PhD, is an Ecologist and the Principal Investigator on the Trophic Cascades Involving Humans, Keystone Predators, Elk, and Aspen in North-Central Colorado on the High Lonesome Ranch Research Project. Cristina is also Co-Principal Investigator on the Wildlife Disease Monitoring Program. Cristina was a Boone and Crockett Fellow and earned her PhD at Oregon State University in Forestry and Wildlife in 2012. She is the author of The Wolf’s Tooth: Keystone Predators, Trophic Cascades, and Biodiversity. Cristina conducts research in Alaska and the northern and southern Rocky Mountains on predator/prey interactions involving large carnivores and their ungulate prey.

Food Web Complexity Research for the Kimball Creek Watershed Restoration

Kimball Creek has experienced in-stream channel and riparian habitat degradation due to historic land use practices including heavy cattle grazing, the creation of diversion dams for irrigation, and the extirpation of beaver. These disturbances, exacerbated by high flows from spring storms and snow melt, have resulted in deeply-incised channel morphology and increased sedimentation. Plans are underway at HLR to restore Kimball Creek Valley to a more natural hydrological pattern and eventually a native cutthroat trout fishery. Through extensive monitoring efforts (2011- ongoing) and numerous experiments (2012- ongoing), we are providing the science necessary to better understand how to manage Kimball Creek, assisting in planning for the restoration effort, and providing baseline data required to evaluate the effectiveness of restoration activities. Our monitoring involves sampling a number of measures of stream and riparian health, including amphibians, insect, plant, and bird diversity, water chemistry, and measures of ecosystem function. As part of this effort, we are building upon existing HLR research by studying trophic cascades within stream and riparian areas, as a way of exploring the ecological effects of restoration of native and threatened species as well as promoting the restoration of biodiversity to these wetlands.

Dr. Howard Whiteman, Ph.D., is Principal Investigator on the Food Web Complexity Research for the Kimball Creek Watershed Restoration Project. He is a Professor of Wildlife and Conservation Biology and Director of the Watershed Studies Institute at Murray State University. He has been studying aquatic ecology and evolution in the Elk Mountains of Colorado as a principal investigator at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory for more than two decades. His current research at HLR focuses on the role of trophic cascades in the restoration of stream and riparian ecosystems.

Scot Peterson, M.S., is a NSF Graduate Research Fellow at Murray State University and is a co-investigator on the Project. He is gathering baseline ecological data in order to measure the success of the proposed restoration of Kimball Creek, as well as investigating the ability of the stream community to recover from the restoration. He holds a B.S. in Biology from Southern Illinois University (SIU), and worked as a research technician and lab manager in SIU’s Freshwater Ecology Lab.

Kaylin Boeckman, B.S., is a graduate student at Murray State University working on the Project. She is gathering baseline data on trophic cascades within Kimball Creek and conducting experiments using the current top predator, tiger salamanders, to understand how predation influences the diversity and abundance of stream invertebrates. She earned her B.S. from Truman State University where she was also valedictorian. She received NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program grants in 2010 and 2011, gaining extensive experience in aquatic ecosystems.

Carla Rothenbuecher, B.S., is a graduate student at Murray State University working on the Conservation Planning and Trophic Cascades Research for the Kimball Creek Watershed Restoration Project. She is collecting observational and experimental data on bottom up processes within Kimball Creek to better understand the effects of primary production and nutrient limitation on stream and riparian food webs and connectivity. She earned her B.S. in Aquatic and Fishery Science from the University of Washington, and has spent the last 8 years as a field technician in aquatic resource conservation and management across much of the western United States.