Tour Descriptions


2016 Science Tours

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Photo by Jimmy Lee
Photo by Jimmy Lee

June 30 – When Good Bees Go Bad: Pollinator Behavior, Floral Fidelity, and Impacts On Wildflowers. Dr. Berry Brosi, Emory University

In this tour, participants will learn about bee foraging behavior and how the choices of flowers that bees make can have important effects on the pollination of those flowers. We will start by discussing the role of pollination in wildflowers, including the importance of pollinator fidelity to a particular plant species, and learn identification of some common wildflowers and pollinators. Participants will then have the opportunity to collect data on pollinator foraging behavior by following individual pollinators in the field and recording which plants they visit.

July 7 – How to Hatch an Egg. Dr. Ross Conover, The College of the Adirondacks

Hummingbird nesting. Photo from RMBL Archives
Hummingbird nesting. Photo from RMBL Archives

I always get so excited for the rare glimpse of a hatching egg in the wild, but not nearly as much as the seething parents nearby. They chip, stoop, poop, and sometimes claw from overhead—and rightfully so, for this is the culmination of their life’s work. Birds are tireless in their efforts to sing, feed, fight, molt, migrate, nest, preen, incubate, and mate; all to hatch an egg. We’ll explore the hidden and much misunderstood world behind this secretive activity through field observations of wild bird nests and nesting behaviors…but it won’t end there, for the fun has just begun.

Dr. David Inouye. Photo from RMBL Archives
Dr. David Inouye. Photo from RMBL Archives

July 14 – What Long-Term Natural History Studies Are Showing Us About Responses of Wildflowers and Animals to the Changing Climate. Dr. David Inouye, University of Maryland

David has worked at RMBL since 1971, and will talk about some of the research projects he has continued since as far back as 1973. His study of the phenology (seasonal timing) and abundance of wildflowers is recording the ongoing changes in response to the changing climate. He’ll talk about the insights the data have revealed, and show you some of the plots where they record numbers of flowers every other day for the whole growing season. David also has a wealth of knowledge about the natural history of the East River valley, which he enjoys sharing.

RMBL Researchers - photo by Allison Ford
RMBL Researchers Dr. Lara Souza and Erika LaPlante. Photo by Allison Ford

July 21 – From Shoots to Roots: Tracking the Building Blocks of Life Within Alpine Meadows. Dr. Lara Souza, University of Oklahoma

Participants will learn how common and rare alpine meadow plant species affect the cycling of carbon, life’s building block, via their leaves and roots. We will also assess how the loss of common and rare species can alter an alpine meadow from a sink to a source of carbon. We will begin by learning the identification of some common and less common wildflowers, then we will collect plant leaves and roots and practice field measurements of plant traits and ecosystem carbon fluxes in an ongoing experiment that manipulates common and rare species loss. We will end with a short presentation of key research findings and discussion of how plant species’ decline and loss will impact the function of alpine meadow ecosystems.

July 28 – Nature vs Nuture and the Role of Genetic Variation. Dr. Tom Mitchell-Olds and Lauren Carley, Duke University

In this tour we will talk about natural variation influencing the lives of plants and animals across diverse environments. How can we learn about the role of nature vs. nurture for the traits that control growth, survival, and reproduction? (And how does this relate to variation in human health?) We will explore natural populations and experimental gardens, microbiomes in nature, and the interactions among plants, the insects that attack them, and environmental conditions where they live. Finally, we will see how field experiments near Crested Butte gave rise to food security research in Asia and North America. We will spend most of our time outside in the field, so please come prepared with appropriate attire.



Sept 16 036
Photo from RMBL Archives

MONDAY August 1 – Water, Water Everywhere: How metals get from here to there. Dr. Ken Williams, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and Dr. Rosemary Carroll, Desert Research Institute

When, where and how water flows within the landscape drives many environmental processes and relates to basic human needs and safety.  Vulnerability of snow-dominated systems is of particular concern given 1/6 the world’s population depends on water from these mountain headwater systems.  Join scientists Rosemary Carroll and Kenneth Williams to discuss hydrology in the East River and impacts to water availability and water quality as the region gets hotter and drier. We will focus on the different components of the water cycle, understanding how water gets from one place to another, and how long water spends in different places.  Special emphasis will be placed on the role water plays in releasing metals from mining impacted areas, with lessons learned from the Gold King Mine Spill on the Animas River and its relation to Crested Butte’s water resources.

WEDNESDAY August 3 – 50 Years of Marmots: What’s Left to Learn? Gabriela Pinho, UCLA

The marmot team at RMBL collects extensive marmot data every year. Why do we keep coming back? You will learn about the dramatic lives of marmots: their social interactions, hormonal changes, and how they prepare during the summer to survive the long, harsh winter. On this tour, we will also discuss the highlights of 50 years of marmot research and the current questions being answered. Bring your camera, you will be able to closely watch us handling a captured marmot!

White-crowned sparrow. Photo by Jimmy Lee
White-crowned sparrow. Photo by Jimmy Lee

THURSDAY August 4 – How to Identify Birds. Dr. Ross Conover, The College of the Adirondacks

Bird identification is among the purest challenges of organism identification in nature. Birds not only move quickly, but frantically and without consideration for the viewing pleasure of the bipedal primate below. As a consequence, birders must learn several tricks of the trade to successfully accumulate enough evidence for confident identification. In this tour, I will introduce you to these tricks and we’ll apply them to some of the high elevation birds that breed in the RMBL region.

Photo from RMBL Archives

August 11 – The Secret Lives of Butterflies. Rachel Steward, University of South Carolina

Images of butterflies are everywhere, from tech logos, to music albums, to that ill-conceived tattoo. But how much do you actually know about these beautiful insects? Come learn how to identify some of the common butterfly species flying in in the East River Valley. We will also delve into the deeper mysteries of how butterflies find and choose food plants and the many ways these choices affect the lives of their caterpillar offspring.

August 18 – SORRY, THIS TOUR IS FULL – Travel Through Time Without A Time Machine: Local Geologic History. Dr. Amy Ellwein, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory

Landscapes, like people, are a product of their history.  The upper Gunnison watershed views you enjoy today have been shaped by almost two billion years of geologic events! Our local rocks were deposited in vast ocean basins and on land, cooled from a molten state deep within the earth and very close to (or on) the surface, lifted thousands of feet to their current elevation, eroded by a variety of forces including glaciers, faulted and folded by massive forces within the earth, and more. Learn to read our rocks and landscapes and become a geologic time traveler!

August 25 – SORRY, TOUR CANCELED- Water 101: Determining the Health of a Pond or River.  Dr. Sarah Oktay, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory

Dr. Sarah Oktay

Water resources and ecosystems are not only precious but also very vulnerable. Without clean water and a functioning hydrology system, the planet and its inhabitants cannot exist. We will go on a tour to a creek, river and pond and use the same instruments that a typical water scientist uses to determine the health of these water bodies. We will discuss ways to protect surface and groundwater and learn how scientists can trace where water comes from and where it goes.