Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Introductions: Jahaziel Guiterrez

The 5 W’s of Jaz (who, what, when, where, and why)

My name is Jahaziel Gutierrez, but people seem to like calling me Jaz for simplicity. I am an undergraduate transfer student at UCLA going into my third year. I truly began to like science when I started community college and now it has become an essential part in my life, specifically biology and physiology. I have been interested in animal behavior for a good while now. It was an area I knew so little of but wanted to learn so much about. A spark was initiated when I presented my first literature paper of my choice in my biology classroom. I chose to present a paper on how metabolic rate and body size are linked with perception of temporal information by Kevin Healy. After this experience, my curiosity expanded and that’s when I became good friends with search engines. As I got older and a little wiser, I began to understand the intentions of research and the value behind it. I wanted to be a part of it one day so my bio professor Dr. Jimmy Lee suggested that I apply to RMBL and get some research experience there, so I did.

My first year at RMBL I was an REU student with my own individual project. My initial plan was to work with animals but instead was introduced to work with plants while taking a methods in field of ecology course. I knew very little about ecology so the course really helped me get a sense of different processes. My project focused on below and aboveground functional traits of dominant and sub dominant plant species along an elevation gradient. It was my first project out in the field with its own official lab. My mentor, Quentin Read taught me some tips, tricks and techniques you wont find in the books. Although plants are very interesting, my heart kept beating for animals. Nevertheless, I had such a positive and life changing experience out there that I decided to apply again this summer.

This summer at RMBL I got to work with one of my favorite mammals, yellow-bellied marmots. I am a research assistant for Dan Blumstein and a member of the marmot team. Things don’t come easy and although long hours can be spent in the sizzling sun collecting data from observations, trapping, etc., I enjoy every moment out in the field (except for the mosquitos and flies). I’ll be scanning with my scope or binos for marmots and expect to see something different each time. There are times where I am able to predict an individuals behavior based on how well I know the animal’s personality traits. Marmot interactions are the most adorable when the yearlings are play wrestling and boxing. It seems like some prefer to forage together in small groups for better awareness of predators. And other individuals like to be by themselves and sun bathe on a rock until it gets cool enough to forage. But regardless of the marmot, they usually alarm call if they sense a posing threat, which is one of the reasons I think it is a great factor of their fitness ability. I am gradually learning about the lives that marmots have to go through and appreciate all the knowledge that Dan and the rest of the marmot team get to share with me. The experiences and stories I have here at RMBL are tremendous and I am grateful to have been introduced to such a beautiful place with such great people. I cannot wait to hold my first pup and name it, which should be coming up really soon One thing that I am glad I got to experience the past week was Gabriela’s first bike ride in the rocky road to picnic. She did so good that the road has to watch out for her now instead. Cheers to another great summer!!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Introductions: Jenny Yang

Ready to RMBL!

Hi everybody! My name is Jenny Yang. I’m a third year undergraduate student at UCLA and have been part of Team Marmot for a little less than a year now. Having lived in the city all my life, I spent my first week at RMBL getting acclimated to the wonders of mountain life. Other than the pesky mosquitos that have been having a feast on body recently (I can only imagine what will happen when the biting flies come out) though, I have been having the best time! It has been amazing meeting so many passionate people and being surrounded by so much wilderness—the closest I get to nature on a daily basis in Los Angeles are the squirrels roaming around UCLA. I definitely see why people love RMBL so much and why so many come back time and time again!

In less than a week, I have already learned more than my brain can process! During my time with the Blumstein Lab at UCLA, I have worked a bunch with the poop samples, blood smears, and social interaction data that were collected on the marmots here at RMBL. Actually learning how to live-trap and observe these little guys, however, has offered me a whole new perspective on the work that I have been doing. While it was overwhelming at first to remember the different colony sites and individual marmots, which, by the way, are all insanely cute, I have found it such a rewarding and satisfying experience. I can only imagine what kind of craziness the next three months will bring!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Introductions: Ana Solis!

Taking my Breath Away

Hi! My name is Ana Solis and I just finished my undergrad at UCLA last Sunday! After graduation, I made an epic drive out to Colorado with Dan and started my summer as an official marmoteer. I’m extremely excited to be out here at RMBL, especially since it is my first time out of the urban setting.  Granted it took a few days to get used to the altitude, and I still lose my breath going up hill, but I’m having an absolutely amazing time. I’ve gotten to see baby deer, and baby weasels, and marmots!!!!

This last week, I’ve been out to a different site everyday, and I’ve been working really hard on learning the important locations and getting to know the marmots better. It’s amazing to see how they all have different personalities, and different preferences. I can’t wait to get to know the pups!! Everyone here seems to have a special relationship with at least one of the marmots and I’m really hoping to find my marmot BFF.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Back at it!

My name is Evan Griffith. I’m a recent graduate of Grinnell College and this is my second summer working with “team marmot” at RMBL. I was really excited to come back to Gothic, because I love living in the mountains and of course I missed all of my marmot friends! Last year I mostly focused on the relationship between coat color and behavior in marmots. This involved performing flight initiation distance (FID) experiments, a measurement of boldness, and taking pictures of marmot backs during trapping. This year I’m working with Kwasi (an undergrad from UConn) to expand the FID experiment to include escape speed (of the marmot) and relative refuge angle, that is, the angle between the marmot’s path to a burrow and the walker’s path. This involves some serious camera work, but I think Kwasi and I are up to the task!
            There’s nothing quite like being in Colorado for the summer. Every morning I head up Gothic road on my bike. After running out of breath from biking up the steep hill at the north end of town I have to stop, not only to catch my breath, but also to admire the view. The green valley, rimmed by mountains, is cut down the middle by the steely East river, flowing strongly due to all the snowmelt. To the right are the red-stained slopes of Avery, begging to be climbed. In front, the snow-covered crown of Bellview glistens in the early morning light, and of course, the familiar gray cliffs of Gothic mountain fill the western portion of the sky. No matter which way I look the view seems to get better. Ruby-crowned kinglets, yellow-rumped warblers, mountain chickadees and a plethora of other birds defend their territory and advertise for mates at the top of their lungs. It takes about 15 minutes to bike to Picnic, but the trip is a quick one due to the natural scenery and the avian opera that takes place every morning.

            I get excited every day to see the animals I know so well. One of the neater aspects of working with marmots for an entire summer is that you become very familiar with each individual. For example, at picnic I know that “five-dice-dots” (an alpha male) will be hanging out at aspen burrow, “alien,” “line-dot-line,” and “taurus” will probably be around triple spruce, etc. All of these animals have personalities and by the end of the summer after watching them for 100s of hours you really get to know them well. Tiffany had us in hysterics describing “cat’s” (an adult female) antics when spooked. She jumps clear off the ground and spins 360 degrees, which Tiffany demonstrated quite convincingly. I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer and learning more about these incredible creatures. Here’s to more adventures!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Our soon-to-be famous marmots

Film crew recording marmot behavior

This week, I got to show these two and their big fancy cameras around our valley. They are filming a nature documentary about the mountains in the Western U.S. and asked us to help them find unmarked marmots to record. I'm proud to say that almost all of the marmots in our population are currently marked, so we had to travel a ways up valley to find some pristine individuals, but we did it. 

I sat with them for a day and they got some pretty cool footage- marmots crossing snow plugs, alarm calling, foraging (of course), even an aggressive chase or two... Looks like it should be a nice story and I'm excited to see the final product!

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A hearty congratulations to Adriana and Nicole!

Adriana and Nicole just had their PhD dissertations signed off on and are now Dr. Maldonado-Chaparro and Dr. Munoz! Congrats to both of them. Next Thursday they get 'hooded', which will be followed by a lab party in the LA contingent of the marmoteers.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Highly stressed marmots are less likely to survive hibernation

Another marmot paper is out!

Wey TW, Lin L*, Patton ML, and Blumstein DT. 2015. Stress hormone metabolites predict overwinter survival in yellow-bellied marmots. acta ethologica, 18:181-185. doi: 10.1007/s10211-014-0204-6.

This has been out online for a while at:
But it just got included in a final paginated print volume.

Here's a quick summary:
There’s quite a lot of information in scat, aka animal feces—yes, poop. One kind of data that can be extracted is how stressed out an animal is. Animal’s produce more stress hormones in response to stressors, stimuli which could range from the threat of a predator to exercise. These hormones are eventually broken down and passed out of the body sometime later in feces. A normal stress response helps animals respond to their environment, but chronic stress can have negative health effects. (Sound familiar? It applies to people, too, of course.) For yellow-bellied marmots, getting ready for hibernation is a huge deal, and in a recent study , we found that the marmots that with very high levels of stress hormone by-products in their feces were less likely to survive the winter. This was true independent of their body weight, but the effect was bigger for skinner marmots, which suggests that being skinny and stressed out is an especially bad combination.

Read on for a more detailed description of the work...
Chronic stress can have negative health effects in humans and other animals, and methods to measure stress and its health impacts in wildlife are necessary for research and management. In particular, we want to find non-invasive measures that cause as little harm and stress to animals as possible. Glucocorticoid metabolites (the by-products of stress hormones) excreted in feces reflect the amount of stress hormones produced, and by proxy, the amount of stress response that animal had. Collecting feces is easy and, importantly, does not require drawing blood or other procedures that cause further stress to the animals. Measuring stress this way is, thus, a promising tool for wildlife studies, and in several species, higher levels of these fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGMs) are linked with reduced survival in populations of wild animals. (But, in other species, there is no evidence for this link.)

Yellow-bellied marmots require a lot of energy to hibernate successfully and survive the winter, and a previous study (Smith et al. 2012) confirmed that stressful stimuli resulted in higher levels of FGMs. Therefore, we hypothesized that marmots with the highest levels of FGM levels might be chronically stressed and the most likely to die during winter hibernation. We found that high FGM levels, both those measured over a long time (several months) or only in a short time (two weeks) right before hibernation, predicted lower chances of surviving the winter, as we expected. We also found that FGM levels were a stronger predictor of survival in skinnier marmots. This supports the idea that marmots with high levels of stress hormones are more likely to die during hibernation and that a combination of higher stress and low body weight is especially bad. Measuring stress hormone by-products this way therefore seems like one useful indicator of potential poor health in marmots, and our study adds to a more general understanding of the links between stress and health in wild animals.