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W&L Research in Yellowstone Makes Headlines

Two recent stories in the Billings (Mont.) Gazette have focused on research conducted by Washington and Lee biology professor Bill Hamilton and W&L students in several of his Spring Term courses.

The stories, “Researchers try to revitalize soil in Gardiner Basin area” and “Yellowstone Park restoration work progressing,” report on an article that Bill and his colleague, Eric Hellquist, of State University New York-Oswego, have published in the 2012 issue of the journal Yellowstone Science.

They have focused their research on Gardiner Basin, in the upper northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park. As Bill has explained, the area is a prime winter range for bison, elk and pronghorn antelope. But the grasslands have been overgrown by mustard, a nonnative plant that inhibits the growth of native grasses. As those grasses have been depleted, the animals, especially bison, wander beyond the protection of Yellowstone’s borders in search of new pastures.

Inside three plots, fenced to keep wildlife out, the mustard has been eliminated with a herbicide. The areas are replanted with barley to stabilize the soil, and then native species are planted. In the past two years, according to the results of the study, soil organic matter increased by 40 percent inside the fence compared with soil outside the fence.

Bill took his first trip in 2005, and his students have been going to back to continue the work. You can read about the work on the class blog and its Facebook page, both of which also feature photographs and videos from the past four years.