Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Predation is real...there is a truth out there.

I just had an OpEd published in Project Syndicate on Surviving in a Post-Truth World.  Anyone that studies animals in the field realizes the clear and present danger that surrounds them and their efforts to properly assess risk.  Something to ponder when a politician talks about alternative facts...

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Lamp lives!

A great thing about working at RMBL is that other people tell us where our marmots are...OK this isn't always so good--like when a marmot breaks into a car and causes damage (OUR marmots would NEVER do this)--but often it is.

A group studying pika just emailed us a photo of a pup, Lamp, who was born this year in town and was just photographed 3 miles away up in Virginia Basin. Unlike other marmots, this one walked there.

Pups NEVER disperse.

This is an extraordinary discovery, and there's a backstory.

Lamp came from the first litter to emerge in the RMBL Townsite. Her mother is Mohawk. Tragically, all of her 5 siblings were killed by the fox family soon after emergence, but she persisted! Her mom bolted after 4 of her offspring were killed and has not been seen much around her litter (she did this last year too!).  When Lamp was the last marmot alive from the litter, she started exploring town. She was found hypothermic outside a cabin about 2 weeks ago and we warmed her up and put her back into her natal burrow. She hung around for a few days and hasn't been seen since.

Now we know where she's been.  She's an alpinist. A survivor. And a very curious marmot.

Good luck Lamp in your new higher alpine home.

Photo: Evelyn Moran

Monday, July 24, 2017

Facebook for marmots

An article in Quartz about long-term research featured our marmot work. Check out the article on-line.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

groundhog and rabbit...

I love how marmots interact with other species. Susan Carol Sam shared this great photo with me of a cottontail leaping over a foraging woodchuck in her backyard!


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Back here again...

Hello (again)! 

This is my second summer in RMBL as a marmoteer. I was previously here in 2013 working on whether spontaneous behaviors are mistaken for flight initiation distances (they weren't!). After working here, I got to travel and work on some pretty cool projects, like training Burrowing Bettongs to avoid cats at Arid Recovery in South Australia and hanging out with the Meerkats of Meerkat Manor in South Africa. This year, I’m excited to be able to return to RMBL as a graduate student!

I’m studying innovation and social learning in the marmots. An innovation is either a completely new behavior that an individual is able to use or an old behavior that an animal is able to use in a new way. To test how innovative marmots can be, we are using a puzzle box, which has two solutions for the marmots to attempt to solve in order to get their beloved horse food. So far, we’ve had four innovating individuals(!) and several more individuals who are more interested in eating the plywood platforms or the cameras than solving the box. Marmots will be marmots! However, we’ve got a lot of great videos that we hope to be sharing! 

It has been a great season so far and we’re looking forwards to more! 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Introducing Sarah...

Hello ! My name is Sarah. I’m a rising senior at Keene State College located in Keene, NH. I’m a biology major with a psychology minor. I’m really interested in animal physiology, neurobiology, and behavior.  

I’m so excited to be joining the 2017 Marmoteers. I’ve always loved animals, particularly rodents. I always had hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs growing up. The second I laid eyes on a yellow-bellied marmot, I fell in love. Just the species name makes you smile…

I’m having an absolutely fantastic time here with the ladies of our lab. The days might be long, and field work can be tough, but I love being outside all day and observing the marmots play, interact, and explore their world. The mountains here are breathtaking ! It is incredibly beautiful.

Handling the marmots is one of my favorite things that we do. We take a variety of measurements – left hind foot, AG distance, assessing repro status, scoring docility behaviors - and we take blood, hair, and fecal samples. Despite their fat round bellies, the marmots are surprisingly strong!

I like to think the marmots are pretty similar to us. They hang out with their family, eat, and sun themselves on rocks most of the day. Seems like a pretty good life !

I’m so happy that I get to apply some skills I’ve learned recently in my Animal Behavior class, such as recording focals and scoring animal behaviors using an ethogram. I was hoping for a field research experience, and I couldn’t have asked for a better one !

Excited to see what else the summer brings…

Introducing Madi...

My name is Madi Standen and I'm a rising junior attending Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA. Back at school I study capuchins and squirrel monkeys and I am so thrilled to be able to broaden my horizons this summer and work with the amazing marmots of Gothic! I've been here for almost five weeks now and am absolutely loving the work (i've even gotten used to waking up at 5:15 every morning). 

When I first saw a marmot I couldn't imagine how trapping those little guys would ever be tough, but let me tell you those guys are strong. I've learned so much, like how to enter data, do a focal and even take blood from a marmot and I can't wait to see what the rest of the summer has in store for me. 

We have a killer team of marmoteers this year and everyone works together well and has a great time. The first pups came out earlier this week and we managed to catch one little guy, who we named power button and I can't wait to mark the rest of his siblings!

Here's to a great summer!

Introducing Alexis...

Hi, my name is Alexis and I'm an undergrad here at RMBL. This is my first summer here and I am so glad I made the right choice in joining the marmoteer group! My project for this summer is lateralization in marmots. Basically, I will be flushing (FID) them to determine whether they share an eye preference for risk assessment. Besides scaring them into their burrow, I'm helping out in trapping and recording social observations. Looking forward to the rest of the summer! (FYI pups are emerging are we are VERY excited).

Introducing Li--Busy and Happy!

I am Lijie Yin, come from Peking University, Beijing, China. I have studied white-headed langur in China over 15 years. I join Dan’s lab as a visiting scholar in UCLA. This is my first time to RMBL and first time to study marmot. Marmot was so cute that I often couldn’t help laughing when I observed them. Dan and his team have made long and outstanding studies. They taught me a lot. I am very grateful. RMBL is such a beautiful place, bringing together a lot of biologists and artists. YesI like RMBLI love this study!

Monday, June 19, 2017

It resumes--first pups spotted!

Hell is about to break loose--Madi just saw two pups emerge in Town at the library burrow.  The pup season has begun!

The mother has been very shy and skittish. She lost a lot of pups to the fox last year.  Time to catch them before the foxes do!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Dandelion--a man with a view

Jacki Aliperti shared this photo of Dandelion perched above Gothic commanding a great view of his well spaced harem.  Thanks Jacki for this wonderful photo!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Marmoteers getting awards

Congratulations to Jenny Yang and Tiffany Armenta who have won UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology research awards.  Jenny receive an Undergraduate Research Award and Tiffany received the Scherbaum Award oustanding research!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Marmot amour

Our Spring work (which often gets snowed out...which is why I'm writing now) is about trying to figure out when marmots emerge (most are still in deep torpor), who survived hibernation, and, if we're really lucky, who is mating with whom.  While introducing Jazmine to the River areas and looking for marmots there, we witnessed a very amorous morning between two survivors. 

A (the male) and I (the female) repeatedly mated on a tiny ledge that was hardly bigger than both of them on a shaley cliff...which was the entrance to their burrow.  Had this not been so compatible, someone would have ended up in the river.  And not all marmot pairings are compatible; just Saturday I watched a male (bowtie) try to mate with two females at a snow-covered Picnic colony and each attempt ended with snarls and bowtie jumping back.  A and I, by contrast, were quite gentle and the matings were outside the burrow and didn't have a lot of obvious foreplay (just greetings and a lot of sitting together). 

Fun stuff! Which will have to tide us over for a few days since a big spring storm has just arrived.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

March for Science -- Gothic Style

This morning we had a brief March for Science in town before I skied up valley searching for marmots and the rest of Team Marmot headed down to Gunnison to get supplies... We were in spirit, if not soma, with our colleagues around the world celebrating the great things that come from supporting scientific discovery.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The season has begun!

We (Gabi, Dana, Gina, Jazmine, and Dan) skied/snowshoed into RMBL on the 17th to start the 2017 field season. It was a beautiful day to come in and the very heavy winter snow has been melting at a furious pace. Nevertheless, the entire road was covered and we made good time coming in.

On the 17th, we looked throughout town and down valley for signs of marmots and found none. Typically marmots first emerge down valley before up-valley. But, because males in multi-male colony sites have to engage in reproductive competition, we might expect earlier emergence this year up-valley...which is what in fact we found.

On the 18th we found that individuals in several up-valley colonies had either just (Marmot Meadow) or had already (Picnic) emerged. Gabi, Gina and Jazmine also found two coyotes lounging around burrows at Picnic waiting for marmots to come out and we know that coyotes are always a good judge of marmot activity.

Yesterday, the 18th, was also HOT. According to billy's records, there were new record high temperatures on the 12th, 13th, 17th and 18th. Dana and I certainly felt the heat while we were hauling in a load of supplies from the trailhead.

Today, the 19th is a snow day. But unlike previous years, it's a wet sleet. Combined with the hot temperatures, this is a really weird spring. April and May always have bouts of storms, but April has been very clear recently and wet snow/sleet in mid-April is, ahem, a sign of the new times I fear.

Nothing is accumulating but nothing seems to be melting either. I think we'll be socked in for the next few days.  In our experience marmots don't really emerge on snowy days...but it would be good to get out during some breaks and continue to look for activity in town and down valley...we'll see. Good time to catch up and clean up a blister...

Essay in Science about doing science on Earth Day

Dan wrote a Working Life piece in Science about why he won't be attending the March for Science--he'll be in Gothic studying marmots.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Don't eat our marmots...

...but of course you can eat groundhogs. Dan was interviewed by Extra Crispy (Time magazine's food newsletter/blog) about eating groundhogs for a groundhog day article.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Why Groundhog Day is a day to celebrate science

Dan was invited by Zocalo Public Square and the Smithsonian to write an essay celebrating science on the most unscientific of holidays--Groundhog Day!  Have a look and Happy Groundhog Day.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Jammin' marmots

The French love their marmots!  Here's a set of music playing marmots!

A Groundhog Day Lesson About Fake News

Marmots face similar problems we face when it comes to finding reliable sources of information.  Dan blogged about this in the Huffington Post as something we can learn from Groundhogs as we celebrate Groundhog Day.