Bonnie Ellis

Research Assistant Professor - Limnology

Send Email: 

Office Phone:  406-982-3301   x239

About Bonnie Ellis

Bonnie Overlooking Triple Divide Range, Glacier National Park
Fishing for bonefish

Bonnie first traveled to the Flathead to work on the limnology of Flathead Lake in 1978.

Her research at The Flathead Lake Biological Station over the last 30 years has ranged from the physiological ecology of phytoplankton in Flathead Lake to the dynamics of food webs in the lake and in great steelhead rivers of Kamchatka, Russia. When not at work, Bonnie is either fishing or wishing she was fishing.


Research Interests

I am a limnologist with interests in both lake and stream ecosystems. I am most interested in understanding the physical, biological and chemical factors that control the distribution and abundance of biota.

Of the 300 largest lakes in the world, Flathead Lake is one of the most pristine, but water quality is declining. The focus of my Flathead Lake research is on understanding those factors controlling the production of algae. It has been our great fortune to have maintained a long-term record (i.e., 30 years) of phytoplankton and zooplankton biomass and species distribution, nutrient loading, primary productivity, water clarity and many other important chemical and physical parameters. Determining which natural and anthropogenic factors are of greatest importance in regulating primary productivity in the Lake is one of the major goals of my work.

In Kamchatka, Russia, Jack Stanford and I are working with our colleagues from FLBS and Moscow State University to determine the significance of biophysical controls on the varied life history strategies of the steelhead-rainbow trout (Parasalmo (Onchorynchus) mykiss). Much of my work there is concentrated on the major differences in the food webs supporting the predominant life history types and the importance of marine nutrients within the food web of the different study rivers.

Recent Projects
Flathead Lake water quality - State of the Lake report
Whitefish Lake water quality - Whitefish Lake Monitoring Project
Potential effects of surface pollutants - Flathead Valley Shallow Groundwater Studypdf image
Research on the effects of nonnative species introductions to Flathead Lake - Montana Professorpdf image



  • Ph.D. (Organismal Biology and Ecology): University of Montana, 2006
  • M.S. (Biology): North Texas State University, 1980
  • B.S. (Biology): Lamar University, 1975


Lake Ecology Student sampling Daphnia Pond
Students preparing to collect zooplankton at Snyder Lake in
Glacier National Park
Lake Ecology-- BIOE 453

The focus of Lake Ecology is biogeochemistry of lakes with emphasis on glacial Flathead Lake and limnological methods used to study and manage lake ecosystems. Topics include origin and classification of lakes, thermodynamics, hydrodynamics, identification and quantification of biota, trophic interactions in food webs, nutrient cycles, productivity and water quality. Students analyze data gathered on Flathead and other local lakes with sophisticated instrumentation, such as computer-controlled probes deployed from boats and remote sensing of in-lake conditions from aircraft and satellites, to contrast Flathead Lake with different lakes in the Flathead Basin and around the world. Written and oral reports of independent studies are required.