January 2023 E Newsletter

the power of PLACE

A new way of supporting field science

In addition to supporting the work of individual scientists through ensuring access to field sites and providing logistical support, RMBL is changing field science by encouraging integrative research. Supported as a RMBL Synthesis Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Rebecca Prather (see accompanying article) and 14 collaborators recently published work utilizing 10,812 observations involving 30 plant, 25 insect, 1 amphibian, 2 mammal, and 16 bird species across 45 years. They looked at the complicated ways that organisms in the same ecosystem have responded to a summer increase of 0.4 °C per decade and a fall temperature increase of 0.2 °C per decade with snowmelt date trending earlier 2.4 days per decade.

Responses depend upon the organism. Earlier snowmelt advanced the annual start of many of the species such as insects that overwinter as larvae, including Mormon fritillary butterflies, burying beetles, Gillette’s checkerspot butterfly, and flies, as well as plants that flower soon after snowmelt, including spring beauty and dwarf bluebell. However, prior summer rain delayed activity of some insect species, had no impact on most plant species, and advanced activity of some amphibian, mammal, and bird species. The complexity of the responses was highlighted by the fact that some responses to environmental cues happened as quickly as in a day or two (e.g., glacier lilies responding to snow melt) whereas other responses were happening as long as 2 years later.

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL


Dr. Rebecca Prather

Synthetic science

RMBL has a unique talent for turning budding scientists into fully formed researchers whose scientific contributions resonate around the globe. Case in point: Rebecca Prather. Fresh from finishing her PhD at the University of Oklahoma, she took a postdoctoral position at RMBL with two objectives: One, to collect flower field data for the long-term phenology data set started in 1975 by Dr. David Inouye; and two, to synthesize data from 15 scientists on how climate change is affecting the seasonal activity (phenology) of a diverse menagerie of species.

The data synthesis work has made her a lead author of a paper just published in the distinguished journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The paper demonstrates another unique gift of RMBL — the ability to integrate the work of very different research studies to reveal broad insights. In the paper, Dr. Prather and her team have summarized how wildflowers, birds, beetles, salamanders, ground squirrels, butterflies, and other species are altering their annual cycles based on cues from a changing climate.