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Researchers unlock mystery of subterranean stoneflies

FLBS summer intern Grant Marshall collects stonefly specimens from the alluvial aquifer beneath the Nyack floodplain outside Glacier National Park. Credit: University of Montana In a new study published in the scientific journal Ecology , researchers from the University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station may have unlocked a mystery surrounding unique aquatic insects in the Flathead watershed.

“There’s a surprising adaptation of stoneflies in alluvial aquifers that allows them to use low-oxygen or oxygen-free environments,” said FLBS researcher Rachel Malison, lead author on the study. “These aquifers are hotspots of biodiversity, and this study highlights the vital role gravel-bed river floodplains play on the landscape.”

River floodplains are among the most biodiverse landscapes on earth. They provide an important habitat for aquatic and terrestrial organisms, and their aquifers (i.e., shallow groundwater beneath and adjacent to the river) are key components of complex ecosystems worldwide. The Nyack floodplain of the Middle Fork Flathead River outside Glacier National Park, for instance, sustains everything from microbes to grizzly bears and is home to over half of the 100-plus species of stoneflies known in the state of Montana.

But there’s a unique mystery at work within these river floodplains. Out of sight and under the […]

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