The Alpine Ecosystems Research Institute (AERI) is a member-supported, grant-funded 501C3 nonprofit that conducts multi-disciplinary research focused on clarifying the evolving relationships between humans, montane ecosystems, and their native species. Our mission is to promote the conservation and restoration of montane ecosystems by conducting cutting-edge research, developing innovative restoration strategies, and engaging in public education and outreach efforts. Our team of experts is dedicated to advancing the understanding of these complex systems and providing actionable insights that will help protect them for generations to come. Join us in our efforts to preserve the natural beauty and biodiversity of our alpine ecosystems.
The AERI, originally established in 2018 as the Beartooth Ecosystems Alpine Archaeological Research (BEAAR) Project, is an ongoing interdisciplinary undertaking that investigates behavioral, technological, and environmental foci associated with evolving human-mountain relationships over the late Pleistocene and Holocene in the mountain ranges of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and Rocky Mountain Ranges. By focusing on the documentation of ancient cultural landscape use, biocultural interaction, and paleoenvironmental proxies, the AERI has begun to clarify how ancient cultures behaviorally, technologically, and demographically adapted to and evolved with high-elevation environments spanning the past 13,000 years on the Yellowstone Plateau.
The AERI focuses on understanding mountain ecosystems' biocultural importance through sound multi-disciplinary research, public education, and inclusive public participation. The AERI is partnered with two research institutions, Montana State University (MSU) and the PaleoCultural Research Group (PCRG). Partnerships enable the AERI to reach a diverse array of public participants, mentoring dozens of graduate and undergraduate students, volunteers (members of the public, advocational archaeologists, professional archaeologists), and members of the local and tribal communities.
The AERI is beginning its 7th season of active interdisciplinary research. It has taken public volunteers and interested students into the field since 2018, gathering thousands of multi-focal data points and diagnostic artifacts.
Aside from cultural research, the AERI has been involved with multiple paleoecological studies ranging from modern biological and ecological diversity surveys, high-elevation ice patch coring, cryosphere dendrochronology, sediment sampling, high-elevation lake sediment sampling, and varied forms of isotopic analysis. These interdisciplinary forms of environmental data collection allow the AERI to clarify periods of climatic and ecological change and stability, clarifying multiple variables influencing environmental change in GYE mountain ranges and their surrounding ecosystems over the Pleistocene and Holocene. This process allows the AERI to generate research on multiple facets of human behavioral and cultural responses to these phenomena in mountain ecosystems.
The cultural data discovered by the AERI has broadened our understanding of mountain use within the central Rockies, the Yellowstone Plateau, and potentially globally. In 2022, the AERI discovered North America's oldest known mountain-associated sites, the only concentrated associations of the Clovis techno-complex in a montane setting. The Mountain Home site, the Sheep’s Path site, & the Shady Grove site, Clovis culture localities make up the larger Mountain Home Early Paleo-landscape. These sites fundamentally change our understanding of the earliest confirmed populations on the continent, enabling the investigation of a new facet of the Clovis culture, high-elevation seasonal landscape use.
Other notable discoveries by the AERI include the only known high-elevation Late Paleoindian (~8,000 – 10,000 years before present) stone tool cache in Montana, the highest-elevation ceramic manufacturing site in the GYE, and the highest elevation occurrence of ceramics in Montana, in addition to the highest-elevation stone occupation and hunting features in Montana, with some included in the highest in the Continental US.
The AERI is also looking to the future, creating research and student learning opportunities beyond the alpine ecosystems of the GYE. We are preparing for multiple upcoming research venues in other Montana plains and Rocky Mountain ecosystems. The primary Group area of the AERI is in the Beartooth Wilderness of southwestern Montana. In 2023, the AERI will begin researching in the Bridger Range of southwest Montana, with preliminary plans to begin geophysical, ground penetrating radar, and sedimentation/taphonomic studies on the range of potential study areas.
Conduct research to improve understanding of montane ecosystems
Develop innovative strategies to promote conservation
Engage in public education and outreach efforts to promote awareness