Program Dates: May 28 - Aug. 2, 2024 | Apply by March 1, 2024

Overview and Who Should Apply

The Socioecological Systems (SES) in the American West at Montana State is a summer research program supported by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.

The American rangeland is a complex socioecological system. To protect this unique and beautiful system, and make sure it provides in the future for the many animals, plants, and humans that depend upon it, we need to appreciate how social, economic, and ecological processes interact.

In this program students will conduct independent research projects on one or more aspects of this system. Through workshops and discussions, they will compare insights with one another and work towards a holistic understanding of the interconnected social, economic, and ecological processes at work in Montana rangelands and learn how we can protect those systems for current and future generations.

Students will be paired with faculty advisors in the Departments of Animal & Range Sciences, Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, Research Stations, Agricultural Economics, or Ecology. Research by SES faculty (see list below) covers four core areas: 1) Plant and Soil Ecology; 2) Wildlife Ecology; 3) Food and Wildland System Management; and 4) Animal Science, Physiology & Production.

We seek students who have a passion for science and for applying science to the benefit of their communities and who would enjoy being part of a diverse group of peers who share these passions. All interested students are welcome and encouraged to apply. We particularly encourage applications from American Indian and Alaska Native students, other Underrepresented Minority (URM) groups, or schools with limited research opportunities.

Why Apply?

During the 10-week program, students will conduct field, lab, or computational research and participate in a range of activities. Activities will include field trips, social outings, educational and career development workshops, and networking designed to empower students to pursue science as a career and to build supportive professional and community relationships.

Students will also tour working ranches in Montana to experience first-hand the biodiversity and human importance of Western prairies. One highlight will be a two-day service-learning trip to the Fort Peck Reservation, where students will help care for one of the bison herds there, conduct bison research at Fort Peck College, and learn how bison reclamation has affected culture and human health. Trips to the Salish-Kootenai Bison Range and to a ranch and farm in Meagher County are also being planned.

Students will live and work in the beautiful landscape of southwestern Montana, and enjoy summer in the vibrant town of Bozeman, which is a gateway to amazing outdoor experiences and frequently tops lists of best places to visit.

male student in a pen with cattle

Student and instructors with steers at the MSU Bart Farm. MSU News photo.

Support for Participants

Participants will receive a stipend of $7,000 for the summer. An additional $1,000 per student will be provided to faculty advisors to help support student research activities. On-campus housing, parking, gym fees, in-program travel, and 100 on-campus meals will also be provided. Students will be provided housing in an on-campus dormitory.

What to Expect

Each student will spend 10 weeks from late May to early August doing research with an SES REU faculty advisor. Students will indicate their interest in potential advisors (see list below) during the application process and will be assigned to an advisor based on a suitable match between student interests and faculty expertise.

Students will spend their first week in Bozeman settling in and getting to know one another, their advisors, Bozeman, and the surrounding area. During that time students will receive training on laboratory safety and research ethics. They will also work with their faculty advisor and other lab members to outline a summer research project and get started doing their research. During the remainder of the 10-week program, students will conduct lab, field, and/or computational research (30–40 hrs per wk).

This is a diverse program with diverse faculty interests. Some students may spend most of their workday with a research team in the field at one of our research farms or ranches. Others may be working with cattle, sheep, or horses at the barn. Still others may spend most of their time at the lab bench or computer creating simulations and models. Either way, students will be given everything they need to be safe and successful in their research. Students will also participate in weekly meetings with the Program Director (Dr. Dan Atwater), their faculty advisor(s), and invited speakers. Meetings will involve student research presentations, faculty seminars, workshops, group discussions, and training exercises. These experiences will help students develop research and communication skills, and will also guide them in synthesizing insights and seeing rangelands from a holistic, socio-ecological perspective.

Students will have the opportunity to participate in numerous activities, including field trips to Indigenous and non-Indigenous working ranches. At the end of the summer, students will prepare a written report of their project and present their work to students and faculty during a poster symposium.

students studying rangeland

Measuring rangeland plant communities five minutes outside of Bozeman. Photo by D. Atwater.

Why Montana State University?

The SES REU program is housed and administered through the Department of Animal & Range Sciences at MSU. This department is housed in the MSU College of Agriculture, which has considerable expertise in the ecology, management, and production of Montana agricultural and wildlands.

Study areas include rangeland ecology, wildlife ecology, ecosystem ecology, weed ecology, animal production, ranching economics, cropland management, and human welfare. Faculty members conduct cross-disciplinary work and have established connections with public agencies, nonprofits, producers, and tribal groups. These connections have given research faculty in the College of Agriculture a strong connection to local stakeholders and their values. Students will benefit from these connections, both in exposure to career opportunities and in observing how scientific research is connected to real-world human and ecological needs.

Students will also have the opportunity to work with graduate students and peers in a vibrant, active research setting in one of the most beautiful and rewarding parts of the country. MSU is located in Bozeman, Montana, which is world-renowned for its beauty, access to nature, and social opportunities.

children in on the bridger ridge

A view of Bozeman from the Bridger Range ridgeline. Photo by D. Atwater.

Montana State University is also unique in its commitment to empowering Native American students. MSU acknowledges, honors and respects the Native American custodians on whose traditional territories the University now stands and whose historical relationships with the land continue today. Recognized as a top university for Native students, MSU prioritizes a culture of diversity and inclusion through its longstanding partnerships with Montana’s Tribal CollegesNative American Studies Department, extensive Native American Education and Outreach Projects, and new $20M American Indian Hall. These resources are designed to increase Native students’ transfer into and success in STEM disciplines through greater campus inclusivity, enhanced student support, and respectful research and educational collaborations between our institution and tribal communities.

How to Apply

Applications for summer 2024 can be submitted online starting on January 31, 2024.  Applications can be submitted through this site:

A completed application must include the following and be submitted by the end of day (11:59 p.m., Mountain Time) on March 1, 2024.

  1. the online application form
  2. an up-to-date unofficial transcript 
  3. two letters of recommendation,

The application asks applicants to provide the names and email addresses of TWO individuals who can provide letters of recommendation and to identify five potential faculty advisors. For information about possible REU advisors, please see the list of SES faculty advisors below.

Thank you for your interest and we look forward to your application!

If you have questions, please contact Dr. Dan Atwater, program director, at

SES REU Faculty Advisors

Dr. Dan Atwater is an Assistant Professor of Rangeland Ecology in the Department of Animal & Range Sciences at MSU. He is a predictive ecologist who studies effects of global change on ecosystem function, mediated by changes in plant communities. He has a particular interest in understanding responses of rangeland ecosystems to global change with a goal of promoting biodiversity, food security, and way-of-life. Specific research interests include ecological effects of within-species diversity, ecological and evolutionary processes that affect range limits of species responding to climate change, evolution of competitive ability, effects of rangeland management on disturbance resilience and resistance, individual-based modeling, and multi-scale species distribution modeling.

Dr. Jared Beaver strives to blend wildlife research with applied management by identifying conservation opportunities that have direct relevance for private landowners and wildlife biologists responsible for conserving and managing wildlife. Much of his work has focused on population ecology and habitat management of large mammals, with a particular interest in the utilization of emerging technologies for improving wildlife monitoring methodology, habitat management efforts, and wildlife-livestock conflict mitigation. Dr. Beaver’s program is continually looking for ways to develop partnerships and gain additional insight into broad multifaceted questions pertaining to improving wildlife management and conservation efforts on working landscapes.

Dr. Amanda N. Bradbery is an equine scientist studying nutrition and physiology with a focus on growth, development, and longevity of performance/ranch horses. Dr. Bradbery has 8 years’ experience in animal research and interdisciplinary collaborative research. Bradbery has published 15 peer-reviewed journal articles and 39 refereed abstracts. In 3 years, Dr. Bradbery has graduated 2 M.S. students, advised approximately 45 undergraduate students, and currently mentors 2 doctoral students and 1 M.S. student. Dr. Bradbery’s lab is dedicated to producing impactful research while training students in novel research techniques, experimental design, and collaborative skillsets.

Dr. Jed Eberly is an Associate Professor in Agronomy and Soil Microbiology at Montana State University Central Ag Research Center. His research interests are focused on understanding plant-microbe interactions and mechanisms of microbial recruitment in the rhizosphere in response to abiotic stresses. His interests also include understanding the role of microorganisms on agronomic performance of dryland crops, evaluating the potential for seed and soil-applied microorganisms to alleviate plant stresses, determining the role of microorganisms in plant nutrient availability, and isolating novel beneficial microorganisms.

Dr. Stephanie Ewing investigates the role of soils in the Earth system, and the way water records soil process and rock weathering. Current projects include land use effects on water quality, including soil water dynamics in the Northern Great Plains and groundwater-surface water interactions in the Upper Missouri watershed. I have ongoing work related to permafrost thaw on hillslopes and in surface waters of Alaska. To investigate these questions, she works with external labs to accomplish a variety of isotopic measures. She is a professor in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, and directs the Environmental Analytical Laboratory and the Montana Water Center.  

Dr. Andrew Felton’s research lab focuses on understanding how water-limited ecosystems such as grasslands and shrublands respond to climate-driven changes in water availability, with a focus on the western United States. Central to the lab’s approach is the integration of processes–such as primary productivity–across spatial and temporal scales. The lab’s goal is to discover the mechanisms underpinning large-scale patterns of climate vulnerability. Research in Dr. Felton’s lab draws from multiple disciplines including theoretical and plant physiological ecology, ecohydrology, and biogeochemistry and uses both observational and experimental approaches while leveraging the techniques of field ecology, remote sensing, and geographic information systems.

Dr. Hayes Goosey is an Assistant Professor and Extension Forage Specialist at Montana State University. His research and education program brings a systems-level approach to the agroecological components of forage production by melding sustainable production principles with agricultural economic constraints. Specifically, Dr. Goosey brings entomology, plant science, soil science, and animal science together to investigate agricultural systems that provide working farms and ranches with the necessary forage to maintain and/or grow their commercial production needs. He is based out of Bozeman, MT but with his Extension duties, spends much of his time interacting with the people of Montana.

Dr. Sarah McCoski’s research program focuses on how the environment affects embryo and fetal development. Her approach to this topic is 2-fold. She uses embryo and cell culture techniques to better understand how the in vitro environment affects the development of in vitro-produced bovine embryos. The overreaching goal of this work is to identify methods to improve the viability of in vitro-produced embryos. Dr. McCoski also uses “whole animal” models (cattle and sheep) to understand how maternal nutritional status affects embryo growth and placental development. The goal of this work is to develop strategic supplementation strategies to promote long-term offspring health.

Dr. Jane Mangold’s research focuses on integrated management of non-native invasive plants on rangeland. She employs plot-based field methods where she applies and tests various tools with the aim of decreasing abundance of invasive plants while increasing abundance of desired plants. Tools tested include herbicide, soil amendments, grazing, seeding, and biological control, as well as other novel tools as they develop and/or become of interest to stakeholders. Her research includes collaborations with managers of state and federal public lands as well as private landowners across Montana. She also researches basic biology of invasive plants to inform ecologically based management.

Dr. Lance McNew is a wildlife ecologist who studies wildlife habitat relationships and population and community ecology, with a focus on working landscapes of western North America. Dr. McNew has 18 years of experience developing and implementing interdisciplinary research with academic, private, federal, and state collaborators to provide scientific products that better inform wildlife and land conservation. Dr. McNew and his students have published more than 50 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and a recent book focused on the social ecology of rangeland wildlife systems.

Dr. Christian Posbergh is a sheep scientist focused on improving lamb and wool production through improved range management techniques, precision technologies, and genomic tools. By researching ways to improve efficiencies in the sheep industry, economic, social, and environmental sustainability can all be improved in the western range sheep production system.

Dr. Lisa Rew is a Professor of Weed and Invasive Plant Ecology and Management in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences at Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman, Montana.  She and her group perform research in natural, semi-natural and agricultural systems trying to understand more about the ecology of invasive species under different conditions and how to manage them while improving desired vegetation at a local scale. To achieve this, her research includes survey and monitoring methods, species distribution modeling, plant community diversity, population dynamics, and long-distance dispersal and spread.

Anna Schweiger's lab is dedicated to developing theory and methods to remotely sense biodiversity and ecosystem function across spatial, temporal, and ecological scales. We combine field data, including plant, animal, and soil inventories, with remote sensing data to assess the impact of ecosystem protection, restoration, and management practices. Examples of our work include the development of biodiversity metrics that can be remotely sensed; assessments of taxonomic, functional, and phylogenetic plant community composition and resource use; and mapping of chemical and structural vegetation characteristics of vegetation, soil, and rocks for studies across scientific fields ranging from animal movement ecology to volcanology and the social sciences.

Dr. Sam Wyffels is Assistant Professor and Extension Beef Specialist at MSU. His research interests are focused on enhancing the environmental and economic sustainability of beef cattle production systems in Montana. Specifically, incorporating precision ag. technology to beef cattle production, grazing beef cattle nutrition, and environmental factors that influence grazing behavior and nutritional requirements of beef cattle. The goal of his research is to provide high power data to inform livestock management strategies in Montana.

Dr. Carl Yeoman’s research exploits molecular techniques to examine the microbiology and microbial ecology associated with animal hosted and environmental systems. Prof. Yeoman's lab conducts research that combines observational systems-based studies that deploy molecular techniques and experimental wet lab science to understand the ecological and eco-evolutionary rules of microbiological ecosystems and to understanding the roles of these systems in host health, and the interactions of both microbe and host with the environment. Prof. Yeoman’s research outputs span soil, insects, livestock, and wildlife microbial ecosystems in agroecological contexts, as well as human and non-human primate microbial ecosystems in the contexts of ecology, evolution, and human health.

Dr. Catherine Zabinski is a Professor of Land Resources & Environmental Sciences at MSU. She is interested in soil processes that are affected by disturbance and restoration practices, including nutrient cycling, decomposition, and plant-microbe interactions. Her research is increasingly focused on sustainable agriculture, with a continued interest in extreme environments, disturbance and ecological restoration.