Field in Focus is a video series that brings you into the field with Smithsonian scientists working to save species around the globe.

With an ecosystem that supports an abundance of wildlife, from mighty bison to tiny insects, the prairie is one of North America's greatest treasures. But decades of alterations have drastically changed this landscape and impacted the plants and animals that call it home.

Today, Smithsonian scientists are collaborating with the American Prairie in Montana to help understand, restore and preserve this wild landscape. Follow ecologists into the field as they attempt to answer big conservation questions in an even bigger place: the American prairie.

Updates From the Field

American bison grazing on the prairie.
November 22, 2023

Lessons from the Swift Fox

Does an animal's personality play a role on whether it will survive in the wild? Researchers are using a surprising clue to find out: poop.

October 24, 2023

New Tech Tracks Prairie Dogs

Specialized technologies offer a new perspective into the lives of endangered black-footed ferrets and their prairie dog prey.
September 28, 2022

Swift Fox Reintroduction Success

The Fort Belknap Indian Community commemorated three years of its swift fox recovery program with the release of three swift foxes on Tribal lands, bringing the total to 103 recovered...
January 31, 2022

Landmark Bison Restoration Study

A study published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution found that widespread restoration of bison to Tribal lands throughout the Northern Great Plains can help restore the prairie ecosystem while...

November 12, 2021

Inside the Nests of Prairie Birds

Each spring, the Northern Great Plains erupts with life as migratory birds return to build nests and raise their young. Smithsonian researchers are studying these grassland birds that nets in areas...
September 20, 2021

Studying Elusive Prairie Bobcats

Find out how Smithsonian researchers are using camera traps to study bobcats on the Northern Great Plains.

September 10, 2021

Learning From Swift Fox Scat

Sometimes, science stinks — literally! In Montana, researchers are setting up “scat traps" to attract swift foxes, so they can learn from the droppings the foxes leave behind.

September 08, 2021

44-hour Flights: Tracking Curlews

Modern technology is helping unravel the mystery of how migratory birds achieve their amazing flights. Researchers are already finding that many birds fly farther, faster and higher than they thought.

Featured Videos

Members of the Aaniiih and Nakoda tribes are working with Smithsonian researchers to restore biodiversity and return Nóouhàh-Toka’na, or the swift fox, to the land.

An overview of the Great Plains Science program as of 2023.

Every hour, solar-powered GPS ear tags tell SCBI scientists where bison on the American Prairie Reserve in Montana roam.

Camera traps help ecologists learn more about the animals living on the prairie.

Using GPS collars, ecologists are tracking bison as they move across the grasslands of Montana.

Ecologists track long-billed curlews with solar-powered, GPS transmitters.

Meet the Team

Landscape ecologist Hila Shamoon in the field at the American Prairie Reserve in Montana

Hila Shamon, Landscape Ecologist

Hila Shamon's focus is on understanding the prairie's ecosystem engineers — the plants and animals that help shape this unique habitat. Her current study revolves around two grassland species: American bison and black-tailed prairie dogs. She uses camera traps, audio recordings, GPS tags and other technology to collect data.

Bill McShea, Wildlife Ecologist

Bill McShea, Wildlife Ecologist

Bill McShea is passionate about wild animals in wild places. His work has taken him around the world, where he has seen firsthand that conservation science is most effective when combined with compassion for the people living with wildlife. His current focus is helping to inform the management of wildlife and forests.

A head shot of ecologist Andy Boyce in the field at the American Prairie Reserve in Montana

Andy Boyce, Conservation Ecologist

Andy Boyce is interested in just about every aspect of how birds live, where they are found and how evolution shapes the way they reproduce and care for their young. His fascination with birds and biology began in the tropical forests of Venezuela and Borneo, but these days he applies them to a system closer to home — the short-grass prairie and sagebrush steppe of Eastern Montana.

Camera Trap Photo Gallery

Studying wild animals across vast expanses of land is no easy task. Ecologists often employ technology, such as camera traps, to help. These motion-sensitive cameras snap a picture whenever they detect movement, giving researchers extra eyes in the wild.

The camera traps set up around the study site in Montana are deployed 24/7, which allows researchers to gather data without disturbing animals and to collect samples even when they are not in the field. The photos they collect will help build a clearer picture of the ecosystem — what animals are present and when, how species interact, which habitats they prefer and whether their land use changes with the seasons.

Meet some of the residents of the American Prairie Reserve