Saturday, May 28, 2011

Social Group Analysis

My name is Rachel Stafford-Lewis and I am an undergraduate at UCLA. This past quarter my supervisor, Jennifer Smith, and I have been exploring a new method of assigning social groups for Dan Blumstein’s lab with yellow-bellied marmot data. We are working together to try to further understand the social network dynamics in these free-ranging mammals. We began by examining the website and organizing my data so that it included all non-pup marmots for the years 2002-2010.

Specifically, I formatted my data so that it was in the proper .net format and so that I could upload the files into the website properly. Once the files were uploaded, my job was to analyze the modules that were presented by the map generator and assign each to be a specific social group within in that year.

The website is easy to manipulate and the sociograms it creates have a very artistic and aesthetic appearance. There is a well-defined algorithm to assign the social groups and many versatile formats to save your data. It is also easy to change the color and arrangement of each module to reflect what you are trying to emphasize. The data seen above is a .pdf displaying the modular level sociogram from the year 2009.

Beyond the modular level, when you can select to “show source network” and see multiple circles. Each circle represents a different marmot and each connection between them is either thick/dark blue or thin/light blue to represent their social interactions, or lack thereof.

All Non-Pup Adults in the year 2002

There is an additional analysis option called the alluvial generator that is a promising future tool to see how the social groups change from year to year in a simple and easy to understand presentation.

Now that we have assigned social groups using the social network approach, I look forward to testing hypotheses about social evolution as part of an independent research project in the future, so stayed tuned!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I scream, You scream, We all scream for Ice Cream!

Yes, so you must be thinking that with all of that snow out there, "How could she possibly be thinking about ice cream?"

Well, for those of you that know me well, you might not surprised that I have in fact been thinking ice cream would be a tasty treat. However, for now, I suppose a marmot sighting will have to do! Let me explain...

I was on my way to the cabin called Red Rock this morning and thought I saw one of the logs of the cabin moving! Low and behold it was a marmot.

After careful inspection, I ascertained that the identity of this marmot was "Ice Cream." Her fur is marked with a dark dye in the shape of circle over a v. What a tease, now I will just have to look forward to ice cream on hot summer days as the snow slowly melts.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

50 Years of Marmot Research!!!

Building upon the pioneering efforts of Ken Armitage and the efforts of numerous marmoteers over the years, Dan Blumstein now oversees the marmot research project. As a result of these collaborative efforts, this project has been going for half of a century now.

Most projects only last for 3-4 years (the duration of a dissertation or granting period), so this is quite an accomplishment. To celebrate our golden anniversary, Dan made T-shirts! Check out the logo below:

And the current crew in the field wearing our shirts with pride!

Here's to another 50 years of new discoveries...and FUN!!!

Weather at RMBL

This is an unusual year, or so the tell me! Apparently, most years, we are already trapping marmots by now, but at this rate, we are just happy to see marmots above ground.

We ski into camp from the neighboring town with all of our groceries and supplies in our backpacks because the road is not yet open. This is par for the course most years during early season, but there is no sign that the road will be opening any time soon. In fact, we will be lucky if it is open by JUNE!

For more about the weather at Gothic mountain check out Billy Barr's website for the current and predicted weather forecast. Over the past 30 years, Billy has created the most complete record of the world's natural avalanches and we are certainly lucky to have him around. Billy is also an excellent photographer. Check out his photo from skiing into town for supplies.

Photo by Billy Barr

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Call of mother nature

Readers might be wondering because the winter cabin I was staying in currently looks like this...

And because the "summer" cabin that I just moved into currently looks like this...

What on earth does team marmot do when mother nature calls?

Despite their cold seats, the outhouses of RMBL offer their uses a number of perks...

Quiet and solitude...

Scenic views of Gothic mountain...

A central gathering place for socializing...

To summarize, the outhouses of RMBL are priceless.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

It's poster time!

While the rest of Team Marmot enjoys the wonders of springtime in the Rockies, I'm back at UCLA this year. However, it's been really fun because we've got a lab full of super undergraduates who I'm working with to help them develop scientific posters.

Science doesn't stop when you collect data and get an answer; it must be communicated. And, there are several ways to communicate. Writing journal articles are the most common way to communicate science, and this is the ultimate goal of a scientific study. However, along the way it's important to share findings at scientific meetings. And for this, we can give talks or present what are called posters.

Making a scientific poster is a mix of art and science. You want to be sure to get your main messages across but you want to do so in a simple, graphical way. I find the interplay between art and science really exciting. People will be walking around and you want to entice them in to talk with you about your findings. I learn a lot at poster sessions but ultimately I learn by listening to the person who developed the poster rather than standing and reading a poster.

At UCLA we have a big Science Poster Day, where many hundreds of undergraduates present their posters to the entire campus. Our department also has an Undergraduate Research Symposium. And, some of our students are going to a Southern California meeting later this week.

We've been devoting the last few weeks of lab meetings to collectively brainstorming ways to improve posters. And improve they have! I'm really impressed with Noelle, Kelsea, Taylor, and Yvonne's work and I'll be sure to take pictures of them at our Undergraduate Research Symposium next week! Until then...

Monday, May 2, 2011

Signs of marmots!

I just made it to RMBL, and apparently I'm joining the rest of Team Marmot here just in time! Despite all of the snow--6 feet still on the ground--the marmots are telling us that spring is finally in the air. Although we have yet to see a marmot, they are providing us with clues that they are starting to emerge from a long winter of hibernating in their burrows.

Photo by Adriana Maldonado Chaparro
of Jenn Skiing

At this point
in the game, us biologists and the rest of the crew at RMBL must use our field skills to play detective (check out my detective hat)!

First, we saw marmot tracks...note the quarter for size reference.

Photo by Shayn, Winter Caretaker

Check out this a diagram of typical marmot footprint.

Then, these tracks lead Shayn to the following marmot hole!

Photo by Shayn, Winter Caretaker

Finally, Caitlin Wells, from the ground squirrel project, just documented another active marmot burrow...

Photo by Caitlin Wells,
Ground Squirrel Project

So, perhaps tomorrow Team Marmot will finally get to see one of these marmots above ground and wandering around during our morning observations...stay tuned!

Photo by Adriana Maldonado Chaparro

Time for fun!

Not everything here is work, we are lucky we have some snowy days... and to have Marie-Pierre and Julien to teach us how to enjoy a snowy day.

It took couple hours and some inspiration... bring snow, pile it, more snow, more snow. That's the point we will always need more snow!

This is the new member of the marmot team. His task is to look for marmots in town.

Sunny days!

The last member of the early-season marmot team has arrived. Welcome Jenn! A lot of work is waiting for us, learning all the different colonies an locations where the marmots live is a hard work!

Marmot team making sure that all of us get the right name.

The best part is that after a week of lots of snow, we finally got some sunny days to enjoy while looking up for the marmots.

This is my backpack waiting for me to start working.