Monday, July 18, 2011

Meet Team Marmot: Jen Sojka

Greetings marmot fans! I am an undergraduate from Lake Forest College near Chicago, IL, working at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory this summer with Team Marmot. This is me and my science face.

Under the guidance of my mentor, Matt Petelle, I will be studying what affects the repeatability of personality in marmots. Personality by definition is repeatable across time and context. However, we know that many factors can affect how an animal responds to a given personality test, which therefore affect the repeatability. My work will examine the effects of microhabitat and habituation on tests of boldness and exploration in the yellow-bellied marmots near RMBL.

Since I arrived in the beginning of June I have learned how to take down social observations and help with weekly trappings including painting dye marks on marmots backs. Recently, I have begun my experiments to measure personality traits. The test for boldness involves me walking very slowly at marmots and recording the distances when the marmot notices me and when he escapes to his burrow. This is known as a flight initiation distance test.

To measure exploration, I use a novel object test. This test involves placing an object that marmots have never seen before (in this case, a floaty zebra toy named Ezekial) outside of a burrow with a bit of bait in front of it. I then record the activity of the marmots while they forage at the bait. The proportion of time spent looking for predators versus time spent foraging gives a measurement of how adventurous each marmot is.

The marmot, 3, in a drainpipe in Gothic.

I am having an excellent time so far, and I am looking forward to working against the weather to get lots of data in the name of science!

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