What Are They Doing?

Arctic Ground Squirrel
Arctic Ground Squirrel
In the Arctic, bright summers and dark winters are a fact of life and can lead humans to rely on clocks and routines to tell them when to eat or sleep, but how do animals function under these conditions? Circadian rhythms refer to the "internal body clock" that regulates the approximately 24-hour cycle of biological processes in animals and plants. Rhythms in body temperature, brain wave activity, hormone production, and other biological activities are linked to this 24-hour cycle. The Earth's light-dark cycle provides the strongest influence on circadian rhythms and is thought to be the primary driver for the emergence and evolution of internal clocks. In the Polar Regions, however, photoperiod exhibits extreme annual variation because of near 24 hour sunlight in the summer and 24 hour darkness in the winter. In the absence of a well-defined light-dark cycle, some arctic residents lose their daily organization of behavior and physiology, and it is thought that the molecular clockwork that drives circadian rhythms may be weak or absent in arctic vertebrates.

The research team has recently found that the arctic ground squirrel displays daily rhythms of body temperature throughout the arctic summer, in the absence of a light-dark cycle. The current study will investigate the circadian rhythms in arctic ground squirrels during the continuous daylight present during the active summer season and continuous dark of the 6-8 months of hibernation spent sequestered in a burrow. The team wants to understand why arctic ground squirrels, unlike other arctic vertebrates, appear to maintain 24-hour rhythms during the active season. They hypothesize that the persistence of circadian rhythmicity allows ground squirrels to reduce energy expenditure by anticipating predictable changes in its immediate surroundings. They are testing their hypothesis by experimentally phase-shifting free-living ground squirrels to be active at 'night' and estimating their subsequent rates of energy expenditure.

Where Are They?

Squirrel traps on the tundra at Toolik Lake, Alaska
Squirrel traps on the tundra at Toolik Lake, Alaska
From Fairbanks, Alaska the team embarked on an eight hour drive to Toolik Field Station, located in the northern foothills of the Brooks Range in northern Alaska. Toolik Field Station is operated by the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and has hosted hundreds of researchers and students every year since 1975. The team's research sites around the Toolik Lake area were accessed by pick-up truck or on foot.

Expedition Map

Dates
-
Location
Toolik Field Station, Alaska
Project Funded Title
Collaborative Research: Persistence, entrainment, and function of circadian rhythms in arctic ground squirrels
Andre Wille - Teacher
Teacher
Aspen High School

Mr. Wille is a veteran science teacher at Aspen High School in Colorado. Andre teaches all levels of biology, as well as chemistry and integrated science. Andre actively utilizes the "outdoor classroom" to make scientific learning relevant. His students are involved in independent research and citizen science projects near the high school. Andre also leads a variety of outdoor education trips including a week long "Polar to Solar" ski mountaineering and desert canyoneering course. Andre's research interests include aquatic ecology, adaptation to extreme environments, and ornithology. When not teaching, Andre enjoys time in the outdoors with his wife Julie and daughters Anna and Sara.

Cory Williams - Researcher
Researcher
Northern Arizona University

Cory Williams is currently a research assistant professor at Northern Arizona University. His research examines the physiological and behavioral mechanisms that allow animals to cope with environmental change. Specifically, he is interested in the functional and ecological significance of circadian rhythms in arctic vertebrates and the factors underlying plasticity in the timing of annually recurring life-cycle events. Ultimately, the capacity of polar animals to adjust their timing in response to changing environmental conditions, either through phenotypic plasticity or microevolution, will be an important determinant of their resilience to climate change.

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Arctic Ground Squirrel Studies 2014 Resources

Overview

In this activity, students will use IB-style data-based questions centered around graphs made from data collected about arctic ground squirrels by researchers at Toolik Field Station in northern Alaska. Activity levels of ground squirrels are analyzed in relation to solar radiation and ambient temperature. Students work individually or in pairs to answer the questions.

Lesson
Arctic
Less than 1 period
High school and Up
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Overview

In this activity, students will use data collected about two male arctic ground squirrels by researchers at Toolik Field Station in northern Alaska. Each squirrel had a lightlogger to record light intensity (lux) and an implanted data logger to record internal body temperature (°C). Students work individually or in pairs to analyze the data sets and interpret the results.

Lesson
Arctic
About 1 period
High school and Up
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Overview

Students in cooperative teams will use a spreadsheet and graphing program such as Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel to graph and evaluate a large data set. The data sets provided come from authentic arctic ground squirrel research completed at Toolik Research station in arctic Alaska.

Lesson
Arctic
About 1 period
High school and Up
Download, Share, and Remix

Overview

Students in cooperative teams will use a spreadsheet and graphing program such as Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel to graph and evaluate a large data set. The data sets provided come from authentic arctic ground squirrel research completed at Toolik Research station in arctic Alaska.

Lesson
Arctic
About 1 period
High school and Up
Download, Share, and Remix

The report is written by teacher participants upon return from their field expedition portion of the PolarTREC program. It summarizes the benefit of the expedition to the teacher, a description of activities, and a summary of how teachers plan to link this experience in classrooms and communities.

Report
Arctic
Less than 1 period
All Aged
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