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CSU graduate student earns Rocky Mountain Cooperative Ecosystems Studies Unit Award

October 26, 2012

Rocky Mountain National Park is a popular tourist destination for many who visit Colorado, but it also serves as a living laboratory that supports advancements in ecological and natural resource research at Colorado State University.

Excellence in collaborative research Kristen Kaczynski

This October, the Rocky Mountain Cooperative Ecosystems Studies Unit (RM CESU) recognized CSU student Kristen Kaczynski as a recipient of the 2012 RM CESU Student Award for her excellence in collaborative research with the park.

Kaczynski was nominated for this prestigious award by the Rocky Mountain National Park for her enormous contribution to the project "Willow Decline in Rocky Mountain National Park: Examining the Interactions of Drought, Ungulate Browsing, Sapsuckers, and Cytospora Fungal Infection." Established in 2007, the RM CESU Student Award recognizes outstanding accomplishments by students involved with Unit’s projects. A combination of the complexity of the project, the quality of Kaczynski’s approach and her above-and-beyond willingness to share the project serves as the basis for her nomination.

A current PhD candidate in the Graduate Degree Program in Ecology at CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources (WCNR), Kaczynski began her research in 2009 to study the causes of willow die back and its effects on plant and animal communities.

'Far reaching benefits'

Rocky Mountain National Park“The passion behind my research has been to help understand and conserve the riparian ecosystems in Rocky Mountain National Park, and so it is very exciting and rewarding to know that my work was nominated for this award by resource managers at RMNP,” said Kaczynski. “Willow die back and changes to riparian vegetation can change entire plant and animal communities, and my hope is that this research will have far reaching benefits both in Colorado and across the region.”

Kaczynski has spent months of time in field work measuring and documenting changes in willow stand health and responses to impacts, and the RM CESU award brings extra validation to her hard work as she prepares to present the culmination of her years of research in a dissertation defense this November. According to Kaczynski, willow die back has increased significantly over the years and is impacting song bird and amphibian habitats, watershed health, erosion, wildlife food sources and other ecosystem factors.

Her passion

With a passion for understanding plant community disruptions, responses, and impacts, Kaczynski’s goal is to pursue post-doctoral work that will further expand her willow and riparian area research across the region.

More information

For more information about CSU's graduate degree program in Ecology visit the website