Storytellers: Marmot drama in the Rocky Mountains

9NEWS at 9 p.m. 8/19/16.

GOTHIC—You’ve heard of “Days of Our Lives.” You’ve heard of “All my Children.” But have you heard of the drama unravelling daily in the mountains near Crested Butte.

“From this big soap opera we’re learning a lot about how evolution happens, and how flexible species are, and how they respond to climate change,” said Dan Blumstein, a researcher at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, CO.

Blumstein and his team study yellow bellied marmots. They are carrying on a study that has been taking place in the valley around Gothic since 1962. It one of the longest field studies of a non-game animal ever, and years and years of research data has taught them about many things.

“This is a place of not only evolution in action, but also ecology in action, and provides a window on climate change,” Blumstein said. “The timing of when they’ve been emerging from hibernation is getting earlier--they’re getting out about a month earlier than they used to 30 years ago.”

Blumstein said that their extra month of activity seems to be associated with warmer spring temperatures. And this leads to some predictions about the valley where they study the marmots.

“At some point the prediction is that these beautiful alpine meadows will turn into sagebrush—it’ll be much drier.”

The marmot team—or Marmoteers as they call themselves—spend much of their days observing, tagging, and tracking the area marmots. Each marmot gets a special symbol painted on its back, to help the marmoteers tell them apart.

“Having the marks, you get to know who it is, and you kind of get a personal relationship with them—it’s interesting,” said Gabi Pinot, who is on the marmot team. “There’s one male—he’s super aggressive with everybody and he’s like the disgusting male that’s big and he just bites the other females.”

This, and other types of soap-opera-like drama will continue to play out in Gothic. If you’d like to visit the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, to see what other kinds of studies take place there, go to their website: http://www.rmbl.org/

Copyright 2016 KUSA


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