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Researchers using marmots to track how climate change is affecting wildlife

GOTHIC, Colo. – Almost 100 years ago, an abandoned town in the mountains of Colorado was transformed into an outdoor science laboratory, which is now internationally known.

That is where you will find the marmot team—or Marmoteers as they call themselves.

They’re researchers working on one of the longest animal studies on record – on yellow bellied marmots.

Marmots are providing important data on how climate change is affecting wildlife.

“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.

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, KUSA reports.

“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.

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.”

According to KUSA, the  Marmoteers 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.”

For more information on the studies that take place at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, click here.