Science in Yellowstone National Park

grizzly cubspaintbrushwickiuplower fallsEstablished by Congress in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is one of the last, nearly intact, natural ecosystems in the temperate zone of Earth. Here, natural processes operate in an ecological context that has been less subject to human alteration than most others throughout the nation—and indeed throughout the world. This makes the park not only an invaluable natural reserve, but a reservoir of information valuable to humanity. In Yellowstone, scientists conduct research ranging from large-scale studies of landscape changes affecting the local ecosystem to studies of tiny organisms that have the potential to change the lives of people the world over, making the protection of this wilderness relevant and crucial to everyone. Yellowstone also has a rich history that includes an archeological record of more than 11,000 years of human use. Twenty-six American Indian tribes have officially recognized ties to Yellowstone National Park lands. As the world’s first national park, Yellowstone’s modern history is no less significant; the park’s Heritage and Research Center houses materials documenting the development of the national park idea, the history of science in Yellowstone, and major efforts in American wildlife conservation, as well as Yellowstone’s broader natural and human history. In any given year, around 220 independent investigators are permitted to use Yellowstone National Park as their study site on subjects ranging from microbiology to paleontology to grizzly bears and wolves; many more conduct research at the Heritage and Research Center. The Yellowstone Center for Resources is responsible for managing those researchers, as well as the park’s own scientific programs and communications.