Science behind the scenery at Rocky Mountain NP

Aspen ecology, boreal toad presentation coming up

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Rocky Mountain National Park from Trail Ridge Road. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — National Parks aren’t just places to spend a great vacation. Because they’re relatively untouched by development, they also serve as living laboratories where scientists can study plants and animals in an undisturbed setting.

Researchers who have specialized in understanding Rocky Mountain ecosystems will be sharing their expertise as part of Rocky Mountain National Park’s centennial Science Behind The Scenery Programs in the next few weeks every Thursday evening (7:30 p.m.) at the Beaver Meadows visitor center. The talks are free and open to the public.

The next presentation in the series is June 25, when Dr. Scott Franklin  will discuss aspen ecology and how that affects their dominance in Colorado forests. His current research examines long-term changes in Front Range forests, classification of the Pawnee National Grassland vegetation communities, response of aspen to disturbance, and plant competition.

Aspen forests generally hold more water in their soil, have more soil nutrients, and have more species of plants in their understory than conifer forests. For these reasons, public land managers want to maintain aspen forests. However, aspen rarely reproduce from seed in Colorado. Instead, they are clonal and reproduce from their roots. Thus, it is unclear how they will increase over time, and several studies suggest aspen stands are decreasing in Colorado.

On July 2, Brittany Mosher will share recent research findings on the effects of disease and introduced species on boreal toad populations. Worldwide, more than 40 percent of amphibian species are in decline, and boreal toads have nearly vanished from the Colorado high country due to loss of habitat and disease.

Amphibians in Rocky Mountain National Park have not been immune to these problems. Of the five species of amphibians historically present in the park, two, including the boreal toad, have suffered severe declines. The boreal toad is currently endangered in the state of Colorado and is being considered for federal listing as a threatened or endangered species.

For more information about Rocky Mountain National Park please call the park’s information office at (970) 586-1206.

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