From Redwoods to Alpine: A Flatlander’s Story

From Redwoods to Alpine: A Flatlander’s Story I came to the Mountain Research Station here in Colorado from Humboldt State University as a student in the REU program (Research Experience for Undergraduates). I am on my way to being a super senior and I study Wildlife Conservation & Management. I traveled from a coastal town about 7 meters above sea level to end up at 2,900 meters here in the mountains. Needless to say, there was an adjustment period while I was “elevationally challenged.” During my first few weeks here I felt like Bambi learning to walk on ice.

But that’s all okay, because this summer I have gotten the pleasure to work with the pika research team (#teamPika17), and it has been well worth the initial struggle. For my project this summer I have partnered with fellow teamPika member Hilary Rinsland to investigate contact between an assortment of rodents and the American pika (not a rodent) to see how pikas end up with fleas that should be on rodents (rodent-specific fleas). How pikas get their fleas, and who they get them from, is important because it might affect their potential to get plague. Yes, the black death (plague) is often found in the rodent communities downhill of our study sites, so we are trying to find out whether it might be in the mountains, too. To do this, we have spent the last couple of weeks setting camera traps at various places along Niwot Ridge to capture images of pikas and rodents – trying to see pikas that might visit rodent dens and rodents that might visit pika haypiles.

Camera traps have become a popular method used by researchers to gain more insight into various facets of wildlife ecology and behavior while we people aren’t looking. Despite the occasional smashed finger (we lock each camera to a bag of heavy rocks) and marmots that chew our cameras off their posts (if you’re lucky, you get the video), it has been more than a rewarding experience to see these cute animals flaunt their stuff on video – you know, for science!

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© 2017 by Peter L. Erb.

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