Research Highlights

Ongoing Research

Each year there are over 100 active research projects happening in Rocky Mountain National Park. Learn about some of our ongoing research below.
Collecting soil samples at Lost Lake
Collecting soil samples at Lost Lake which are utilized to isolate potentially beneficial, naturally occurring bacteria from the boreal toad’s environment.

Photo by Matt Bitters.

Boreal Toad Research in RMNP

Principal Investigator: Timothy Korpita, RMC Bailey Fellow CU Boulder

Worldwide, amphibians are among the most threatened class of vertebrates due to significant threats including climate change and disease. In RMNP, research centered on boreal toads hopes to document the evolving relationship between the amphibious species and their environment. Currently, research funded through RMNP’s non-profit partner, the Rocky Mountain Conservancy, is studying the effects of Chytridiomycosis on boreal toads in the park. Chytridiomycosis is a disease caused by Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a type of chytrid fungus. This fungus negatively affects amphibious populations by interfering with their ability to breathe and absorb water through their skin. This has contributed to a worldwide decline of amphibious species. Current research is also focusing on developing possible solutions or methods for combating Chytrid and preserving the park’s boreal toad population. Part of this research is lab based, attempting to isolate naturally occurring bacteria from the toads’ environment that could be used in a probiotic treatment against Bd, helping toads resist infection and increase their chance for survival.

Amphibian decline is a significant concern for conservation biologists, who warn that the decline could indicate future and more widespread biodiversity loss. Since amphibians all over the world are facing similar problems, boreal toad research in RMNP helps contribute to a broader library of research and knowledge.

See Rocky Mountain National Park's website for more information on Amphibians and Reptiles.

Ptarmigan researchers fit a tracking device on a ptarmigan hen.
Ptarmigan researchers fit a tracking device on a ptarmigan hen.

Assessing the Vulnerability of White-tailed Ptarmigan to Climate Change

Cameron Aldridge, U.S. Geological Survey

Gregory Wann, Colorado State University

Long-term studies of alpine bird species are rare, but Trail Ridge Road has been the study area for white-tailed ptarmigan research since 1966. This year marked the third field season that U.S. Geological Survey scientists gathered data for a new study. They monitored the life cycle events of ptarmigan and plant food resources to understand how climate shapes the reproductive success of white-tailed ptarmigan hens. This research will provide a clearer picture of why Trail Ridge populations have declined since the 1970's and what could happen to this delicate bird species in upcoming decades.

See Rocky Mountain National Park's website for more information on white-tailed ptarmigan.

Stone tool made of grey quartzite
Archeological sites and artifacts like this stone tool are protected by the Archeological Resources Protection Act (APRA) which makes it illegal to collect artifacts or excavate archeological sites on federal land without a permit.

Ice Patch Archaeology and Paleoecology in Rocky Mountain National Park

Dr. Jason M. Labelle, Associate Professor, Colorado State University

Since 2015, a group of researchers from Colorado State University has been exploring ice patches in Rocky Mountain National Park in order to document natural and cultural remains and create a baseline of study with regard to the retreat of ice patches over time. The study has found a variety of items that were preserved by the ice patches until their recession gradually revealed their contents. Some discoveries include spruce logs nearly 4000 years old, Native American artifacts, and remains of bighorn sheep, elk and deer. In previous studies in the park, archeologists found remains of bison.


The study hopes to continue exploring ice patches and documenting their contents in the future. One of the ultimate research goals is to find items of both cultural and environmental significance, preserved as rare glimpses through the window of time into the past. As climate change increases the rate at which ice patches degrade, the potential for discoveries can potentially add to a larger mosaic of similar studies being conducted around the world.

Research Summaries

Learn more about past research here.
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Last updated: June 26, 2018