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Mapping Idaho Herbivores' "Salad Bar" from the Sky

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A sage-grouse, a pygmy rabbit and a pronghorn visit a lunch-buffet. They take second helpings of some dishes, completely bypass others and sniff tentatively at still more. While these proceedings might seem arbitrary or ultimately impenetrable to a human, nothing could be further from the truth.

For Boise State postdoc Peter Olsoy and biology professor Jen Forbey, the daily buffet occurring in the sagebrush steppe of Idaho is an incredible opportunity to discover the sensitive and singular tastes of the state's herbivores. After all, an animal's dinner-time decisions could impact not only their own health, but the surrounding environment and possibly even the state's economy.

Research team from BSU, ISU and CI watch as drone launches. Photo credit, Jen Forbey.

Idaho GEM3 project focusing on trout and sagebrush aims to produce new scientists

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The $20 million GEM3 grant engaging researchers from public universities throughout Idaho is expansive in its scope of studying two iconic Idaho species, sagebrush and redband trout, and along the way it hopes to encourage students to choose a career path in science.

The full title of this National Science Foundation EPSCoR-funded project is “Genes to Environment: Modeling, Mechanisms, and Mapping.” The five-year project, now in its second year, seeks to learn as much as possible about the genetic and environmental characteristics of sagebrush and trout from desert and montane habitats to see how they adapt to external forces in a changing environment. This information can be used to help inform future land management decisions.

Ruth Andrews, in VIP class offered in ISU Associate Professor Keith Reinhardt's Lab of Plant Physiological Ecology.

Disappearing Sagebrush

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Sagebrush maintains healthy grazing land for cattle and is a habitat for animal species like sage grouse and pygmy rabbits. Sagebrush also plays an important role in the water cycle by trapping snow so that it slowly melts in the spring to support wildlife and plants. Cheatgrass invasion threatens this valuable ecosystem. Learn how GEM3 researchers are developing models to identify places where conservation practices might be most important to where sagebrush is most viable and at most risk.

Why care about sagebrush?

BSU’s Kelly Hopping adapts science research for kids

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This paper explores how a caterpillar fungus is being affected by climate change and human use/management activities. Results suggest this species does not seem to be adapting well to these pressures, which leads to the next research question (currently underway) of how humans can adapt their management practices to prevent it from declining further. Hopping and her collaborators integrated local knowledge and mapping to reach these conclusions. The kids' version introduces these ideas at a level appropriate for lower-level high school classes and includes study questions and an answer key for teachers so that they can think about and discuss these topics in more depth.

Kelly Hopping is assistant professor in Human-Environment Systems at Boise State University. She was hired through the Idaho EPSCoR MILES award and is currently involved with GEM3.

caterpillar fungus

GEM3 Biologists Make Surprising Discovery

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ISU fish ecologists Ernest Keeley and Janet Loxterman have identified some of the last remaining native, genetically pure populations of Cutthroat Trout, including distinct subspecies variations, in the areas around Pocatello.

Recently, Keeley found a genetically pure population of cutthroat trout right under his nose, in a tributary of the Portneuf River that dumps into that stream within the city limits of one of the largest cities in Idaho, Pocatello. That tributary, City Creek, also features one of the most popular trails in the area and where it dumps into the Portneuf, the river is severely degraded.

ISU researchers study trout on the lower Portneuf River