April 2024 Newsletter

the power of PLACE

The Marmot Abides

“One generation passeth, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever” (Ecclesiastes 1:4-9, King James Version)

Like “The Dude”, the marmot abides. “I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that.” – The Big Lebowski.

Similar to a rug that ties a room together, the Marmoteers make RMBL complete. Team Marmot (see adjoining article), led by Dr. Dan Blumstein (UCLA,) arrived in mid-April. The marmot soap opera would be incomplete if the team arrived too late as Gothic’s marmots start digging up through the snow in April to mate. The team sojourned from the busy highways of Los Angeles to don snowshoes at the Snodgrass trailhead for the snowy trek to Gothic. This year’s field team is led by UCLA PhD candidate Taylor Bastian, who is interested in how the environment affects social behavior.

One of the most complete and longest running studies of non-game mammals, the research is unique in terms of its longevity as well as its completeness. Started by Dr. Ken Armitage (Univ. of Kansas) in 1962, marmots have been the target of observation for generations of scientists. The project has grown from an original focus on behavior and lifetime reproductive fitness, to encompass physiology, proteins, and genetics. This makes it possible to connect the dots in unparalleled ways, linking behavior to protein levels in the blood, parsing the role of genetics and the environment in controlling behavior.  Dan and his team not only study the behavior of the marmots but link behavioral differences to lifetime reproductive or evolutionary fitness. For example, in encouraging news for introverts everywhere, less social marmots tend to live longer and have fewer offspring.

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL


Mining for Marmots

Taylor Bastian is a PhD student at University of California Los Angeles and part of Dr. Dan Blumstein’s lab. Last year, she spent her first summer at RMBL working on the marmot project. We caught up with Taylor as she was heading to RMBL for her second summer. What led her to RMBL was a search for a graduate program and learning about Dr. Blumstein’s research with marmots. He’s a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA and runs the marmot project at RMBL.

Marmots are right up Taylor’s alley. She’s interested in studying the environment’s impact on social behaviors, and the marmot project has been studying the behavior of RMBL’s yellow-bellied marmots since 1962. That time span covers a lot of marmots. With 11 colonies to observe, the team saw 216 marmots last year, and there have been many more in previous years.