Spring $1 Million Challenge Grant for Flathead Lake Biological Station

It’s the simplest math equation of all: 1 + 1 = 2. This simple math is now at work for the Flathead Lake Biological Station, only on a much larger scale; in this case, it’s $1 million + $1 million = $2 million. A challenge grant, given anonymously in November, promises to match every dollar of private fundraising for the biological station, up to $1 million.

That’s a return on investment researchers are looking forward to, because the needs are there. Beginning in the 1890s, scientists began periodically monitoring the lake’s water quality. Since 1977, they’ve been able to continuously monitor the lake, but only at one location: a single site in a deep trench about a half mile from Yellow Bay. Scientists have been monitoring the site at least once a month at 116 meters, 90 meters and 5 meters. And certainly, such monitoring provides valuable data with historical significance, since it adds to data that’s been collected for 120 years.

But Flathead Lake is more than one single deep trench. It’s the largest freshwater lake in the western United States, and it’s been going through several important changes—notably, the introduction of mysis shrimp in the lake. To truly understand if the current test location is representative of the lake as a whole, researchers have to test several sites around the lake. The $1 million challenge grant will help make that happen.

The gift will pay for five additional test sites around Flathead Lake, where researchers will collect data seasonally for three years. This will allow for testing nearer the shoreline, which is important because signs of deteriorating water quality begin to develop in shallow bays first.

This data, in turn, also will help scientists better understand the mysis shrimp’s impacts and interactions with its environment, with other organisms, and with the larger food web in the lake. The money will also help researchers maintain and recalibrate two 24-hour data collection sites.

In the end, it all comes down to understanding the lake, its biology and its patterns better. That can benefit management of the lake, of course, but it also can help the station develop baseline data necessary for larger federal science grants and more extensive research.

Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, and the matching generosity of other donors, simple math will be leading to complex scientific discoveries in the years to come.

To support the project, contact Ric Thomas, senior vice president, at 406.243.5615 or ric.thomas@mso.umt.edu.