Monday, April 22, 2019

Welcome Back Gina!

My name is Gina Johnson and I will begin my master’s degree in the Blumstein lab Fall 2019! This is my second year as a marmoteer at RMBL and I am so excited to be here again. My hobbies include hiking and backpacking, SCUBA, exploring and generally just being with animals. I love marmots because they are arguably the cutest critters in existence, and I love to watch them interact and see each of their individual personalities come out! My favorite time of year is pup season when I get to hold babies all day; it is such a privilege to get to work with these tough little animals.

I am fascinated with animal behavior, evolutionary biology, and am working on developing ideas around the animal microbiome. You might have heard the term microbiome as a buzz-word in health and medicine, but in fact, the bacteria that live in and on humans and animals may play a large role in behavior, health, and overall species evolution! This area of research is just beginning to be explored in humans, however, I am very interested in how this complex consortium of microbes influences animals, namely marmots, in a variety of ways. Specifically, I want to understand if the marmot microbiome plays in role in how fat they are able to get prior to hibernation. Marmots must get as fat as possible to survive the winter, and understanding the factors that may influence this is of great importance for our research. I plan to do this via trapping animals and collecting fecal samples, and from this I will be able to sequence each individual marmot’s microbiome. I have yet obtain and analyze data, but I will keep everyone updated as my research progresses!

And again...

I'm writing from RMBL where on the 17th we skied in (again), dug out our water, got my cabin opened and cleaned (no mice over the winter--yea!!!), moved the bicycles out of our RMBL lab, and began another year of marmoteering! Started in 1962, this makes it the start of our 58th year of following our furry friends.

I've spent the past days training up the new members of our spring crew (Karen, Megan and Sam) who along with two returnees (Dana and Gina) will be responsible for documenting emergence from hibernation, looking for any evidence of reproduction and quantifying social behavior during the peak time of their social lives. Everyone is GREAT! And, I have to say that the marmots and weather have been very accommodating. Only one group was up when we got here and others are starting to emerge slowly.

Dandelion--RMBL's resident alpha male emerged a few days before we arrived and when we started looking at him last Thursday, was just starting to explore town. A number of his children with Stitches (his main wife and hibernaculum mate) popped up and began to play (which is great for training folks). Over the past two days I watched Dandy wander around checking out burrows that might contain his other wives. But what he was really after was a mouthful of dry plants that he determinately brought back to his burrow. The best part of this was when he reached the Gothic Road--which was covered with between 1 and 2 meters of snow--and looked both ways before crossing. (I kid you not!) His yearlings played in the burrow entry and we heard one alarm call in response to a crow today (crows are no threats!). The bigger issue is that a pair of foxes wintered in the Johnson meadow, a hundred or so meters from their hibernaculum and they're all casting wary eyes out for the foxes--an encounter with one could be fatal.

We've not seen coyotes but have heard them and seen tracks...but not as many as usual. Dana and I were up valley when the first marmots from up valley emerged at Picnic and today Gina saw marmots emerge at Marmot Meadow into a Cormac McCarthy like post-apocalyptic landscape.

This is because the the real up valley news is the HUGE avalanche at Marmot Meadow. Pretty much all of Avery ran down and blew through Marmot Meadow knocking down many trees and littering much of it with timber. This was a year of 300-350 year avalanches...which means 300-350 year old trees are wiped out by a very large and rare avalanche. Other parts of the valley had equally huge ones and River Mound got a haircut! Half of the trees are now scattered across the meadow.  A slide this large off Gothic has not occurred since I've been working here and River Mound has never been hit like this in the past 58 years. Such landscape altering avalanches are rare. But there was a lot of snow this winter and a 2 meter storm in early March generated a record-setting avalanche cycle.

Below you can see the timber thrown out several hundred meters across Marmot Meadow.

Early in the year I sometimes see ptarmigan down by the road. Yesterday I saw them outside my bedroom window! The group of 9 blended in perfectly with the snow. There's one cryptic one below.

I write this on Earth Day. We've been setting high temperature weather records all week. We've lost about a foot of snow since we all skied in. Rain is forecast in some afternoons. This is weird weather--we often watch marmots this time of the year shivering...but instead it's been sunny and in some places and times over 50 degrees F! We all have been pouring on the sunscreen... But these changes portend poorly for the marmots. Emerging early because of the temperature to a landscape filled with snow means that they will have to live on their fat for at least a month. In years like this we lose a lot in the spring. Fingers crossed that our furry friends can weather this highly unusual weather...

Happy Earth Day from Team Marmot!

Others will soon share their perspectives.

Consider following us on Twitter (@TeamMarmot), and our brand new Instagram feed (@rmblmarmotproject).

Friday, August 3, 2018

Student talks 2018!

Wow: what a busy summer. I've been tweeting to our TeamMarmot twitter account but have had no time to blog...

I just left the field following an excellent research symposium featuring Team Marmot.  Photos below:

Julia talking about human impacts...

Catherine talking about marmot innovation...

Eliza talking about human disturbance at marmot colonies...

Anita talking about how marmots may increase summer survival if they are more social...

Katherine talking about a communication network in white-crowned sparrows...

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Welcome Alex!

Hello, my name is Alexandra Jebb and I am a first year PhD student at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. I have been lucky enough to be selected to work on the Marmot Project by my supervisor Julien Martin and was very excited to get started!

I will be working on ecological and evolutionary topics by combining investigations in to the long-term data and laboratory analysis of physiological markers in blood samples. My key aim is to look into adaptive concepts such as the predictive effects of early life environment on how well suited an individual is to their adult environment (focussing on Silver Spoon Effects and the Predictive Adaptive Response).

So far I have been well looked after by the marmot team and Dan and have been learning to handle individuals and to observe the colonies. Already I have been charmed by these animals and their quirks and can't wait to spend many more months in their company! 

Please feel free to follow my twitter @AHMJebb1 if you want to see how I get on!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

early June update

I've been back out in the field since Memorial Day and it's been crazy busy. Julien has been visiting and we're all working on a new workflow to use tablet computers to save time updating all the trap bags. I've always been skeptical of using tablets for data collection because if you collect data and they break before they can be backed up you've lost everything, and because you can do a lot with data sheets and notes which then later get abstracted into formal electronic data sheets for analysis. Anyway, after a lot of discussion, we're taking the plunge. Data will still be written down on paper when we're trapping animals but it will be entered into the computer immediately upon return to the lab and all the tablets will sync with the newest trapping data. This should save a lot of time. Julien has programmed in a lot of checks on data to hopefully reduce entry errors. Fingers crossed.

Gizmodo was here the other day filming the marmot project as part of a series on field stations around the world. Excited to see what emerges from that.

Trapping is going well, but since there's so much delicious green food around, marmots are a bit less interested in our bait. Oh well. The challenges of fieldwork.

Ipek Kulachi, a postdoc who studies cognition in the wild, has been visiting. We've been talking a bunch about possible projects.

We're still training new people as they arrive. Julien came with his graduate student Alex, who will introduce herself shortly. Three more new folks to go!

RMBL summer program is officially beginning today. The valley is beginning to get busy and I'm spending my 'day off' catching up with correspondence and other projects. Back to that!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Welcome Anita Montero

My name is Anita Montero and I am a rising senior at Barnard College of Columbia University, studying biology and sociology. I am interested in behavioral ecology, particularly mammal sociality. I am also interested in the process of using scientific knowledge to further conservation efforts and improve land management strategies. 

Last summer I interned at the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, researching the impact of ocean acidification on zooplankton. During the school year, I work at a paleoecology biogeochemistry lab at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and I just completed an ecology and evolution field semester in Kenya. 

I’ve loved marmots for a few years now and was excited to meet some Olympic marmots while living in Seattle last summer, so working on this project is a dream come true. It’s a privilege to work on such a long-running field study, particularly in a year with abnormally low snowfall. This summer I’m looking forward to working with team marmot to puzzle out the relationship between social integration and summer survival. So far I’ve enjoyed learning animal handling techniques and getting to know the marmots here at Rocky Mountain Biological Station. They all have such unique personalities! 

Welcome Julia Nelson!

I’m Julia! I’m a rising third year undergrad student and Levine Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte studying Biology. My previous research includes looking at microbial communities in ocean water and studying the impact of climate change on butterfly location and occurrence. In the fall, I will be joining NC State's Wildlife Aerial Observatory program researching how drones can be used in anti-poaching efforts in Namibia. I am still in the process of discovering what I want to study long-term, but I'm currently interested in researching trophic cascades as a reason for the reintroduction/preservation of keystone species. 

I will be in Gothic, Colorado at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory doing a human impact study on marmots for the summer; specifically how motorized vehicles, bicycles, and hikers impact different physiological traits in marmots. As an avid hiker and aspiring ecologist, I'm excited to combine these two personal identities through field work. I look forward to gaining experience in handling critters safely, contributing to a long-term research database, and taking steps towards figuring out where I want to ultimately go in research and conservation. I’ve been at RMBL for almost two weeks now and I’m so excited to continue to learn from Alyssa, Dana, and Dr. Blumstein and to meet the other members of Team Marmot!