LAWRENCE This week, one of the world's foremost scientific journals will publish results of a decades-long research project founded at the University of Kansas showing that mountain rodents called marmots are growing larger, healthier and more plentiful in response to climate change.
The groundbreaking study, published in Nature, is the first to reveal that changes in seasonal timing can increase body weight and population size simultaneously in a species findings likely to have implications for a host of other creatures, especially those that hibernate.
Established by Kenneth Armitage, KU professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology, the long-standing investigation tracks yellow-bellied marmots in Colorado.
"We started this research in 1962, and every summer we'd record basic demography such as the age of the animals, gender, body mass, who survived and who reproduced," Armitage said. "At the time we started, we had no idea that climate change was going to be a problem. But we collected that basic demography to use as a foundation for other kinds of study."
Largely because of the KU researcher, yellow-bellied marmots have proven to be a valuable model organism for understanding larger questions. Armitage said that he first chose to study the marmot because it lives in easy-to-find burrows and is active in the daytime, so it is readily observable.
"I didn't intend to spend 40 years studying marmots, but new questions kept coming up physiological, hibernation, genetics and so on," Armitage said. "It turned out that long-term studies of our kind are quite rare. Yet, it's precisely the kind of data that you need to determine what climate change is going to do."
The climate-change findings result from collaboration between a number of international researchers who used fieldwork by Armitage to underpin their analyses. Both Arpat Ozgul, lead author of the study from Imperial College Lo
|Contact: Brendan Lynch|
University of Kansas