Teaching in Yellowstone
David W. Roberts

Department of Ecology

Montana State University


I am a vegetation ecologist interested in:
  • vegetation theory

  • simulation modeling

  • multivariate analysis of ecological communities


In 2019/2020 I have been awarded a sabbatical leave by Montana State University, and a Fellowship from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL in Birmensdorf, Switzerland. I'll be working with Nick Zimmermann and colleagues in Land Change Science and four other research units on developing statistical methods to model the distribution of potential natural vegetation in Switzerland and the northern Rocky Mountains in the US.


As I have recently stepped down as Department Head, my teaching assignment is somewhat reduced and uncertain. My primary teaching assignment is two courses: In addition, I sometimes teach another grad-level course


I am the author of several R packages for ecological analysis.

These packages are available at the Comprehensive R Archive Network here

Recent and Current Research Projects

Grand Teton National Park Vegetation Data Management System

As part of an effort to develop a simulation model of the future vegetation of Grand Teton National Park (see just below) I have undertaken a systematic revision of the basic data on vegetation of the Park (and nearby National Forests) using a combination of the GRASS GIS system, the PostgreSQL database system, and R statistical software. The base data consists of 745 detailed vegetation sample plots, and 1122 accuracy assessment plots with reduced detail on vegetation composition. The vegetation map iself consists of more than 49000 polygons of 52 specific map codes.

The GRASS GIS system allows comprehensive script-based management of spatial data and imagery.

PostgreSQL is an extraordinary open-source relational database that links directly to GRASS and R, so that data are held in a single location, with spqatial operations managed by GRASS, statistical calculations managed by R, and full database query capability in PostgreSQL. The current SQL schema for the project is available here

Terrestrial Ecosystem Unit Inventory of the Beartooth Mountains

The Beartooth is what the US Forest Service calls a "Terrestrial Ecosystem Unit Inventory." This is an integrated potential vegetation/soil classification that employs sample plots with full vascular plant species abundances and full soil pits. Our work is on the Custer National Forest section of the Beartooth Mountains, and includes 511 sample plots collected through a collaboration of the Custer National Forest and the LabDSV at Montana State University. The final report is available here.

Potential Natural Vegetation of the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service

I have recently taken on a project helping Region 1 of the Forest Service (Montana and N.Idaho) develop a new map of potential natural vegetation (PNV). Working with many colleagues in Region 1 (Eric Henderson, Mary Manning, Katie Renwick, Zach Holden, Steve Brown and several others), we're trying to update the classification of PNV map units and develop statistical predictive models of PNV distribution Region-wide. The project makes up one of the primary objectives of my 2019/20202 sabbatical (see above)