Climate Change and Utah’s High Elevation Ecosystems

Anthropology, Climate Science, Ecology, Paleontology

The use of fossil data to inform contemporary conservation is essential for sustaining biodiversity in the future. This is because as human impacts on ecosystems accelerate/there is a growing emphasis in conservation planning towards maximizing the capacity of ecosystems to respond to anticipated changes in the near future. Doing so/however/requires understanding how ecosystems responded to past changes that occurred over timescales exceeding those of direct human observation. The fossil record provides these data and documents baselines of animal communities that can be used to evaluate the impacts of historic/human-induced climate change and attest to the responses of species to ecosystem changes over geological timescales.  In this stream/we study fossil animal remains recovered from Utah’s high-elevation cave deposits to establish what animal communities looked like before human-induced climate change. We then compare these past records with recent zoological survey data to evaluate whether ongoing climate change has contributed to range shifts or local extinctions/as has been predicted for the region’s montane mammals. This work is interdisciplinary and sits at the intersection of Anthropology/Ecology/Geology/and Climate and Environmental Science/and has implications for contemporary ecological restoration/conservation/and wildlife management projects. Students joining this stream will learn skills related to vertebrate osteology/climate modeling/database and museum collections management/and statistical data analysis/and will have the opportunity to develop independent research projects and present their findings to the public and other members of the scientific community. Please reach out to the stream leader/Dr. Cole (email: to find out more about this research and opportunities for student involvement and collaboration.

Stream Leaders

Kasey Cole, PhD
SRI Fellow