Arctic Ground Squirrel Studies 2017


Join Jenn Baldacci and "Team Squirrel" for 2 live events from Toolik Field Station in Alaska! One event will be held on Tuesday, 25 April 2017 at 10:15pm AKDT (26 April 2017 8:15am Swiss time). The second event will be held on Thursday, 27 April at 7:00am AKDT (8:00am PDT, 9:00am MDT, 10:00am CDT, 11:00am EDT). Both of these events will be broadcast live from Toolik Field Station in Alaska. Register here.

What Are They Doing?

Photo by Andre WilleAn Arctic ground squirrel eating a carrot in a cage. Photo by Andre Wille. The climate of the Arctic is extreme and characterized by long dark cold winters and short bright cool summers. Arctic ground squirrels avoid the long winters by spending 7-9 months below-ground hibernating, reaching body temperatures as low as -3°C as they supercool their tissues. But the onset of spring in the Arctic can be variable depending on the depth of the winter snowpack that needs to melt and the prevalence of late spring snowstorms. How do arctic ground squirrels know when to terminate hibernation and emerge to the surface?

Predicting how species might alter their annual timing in response to rapid environmental change, including climate change, is constrained by insufficient knowledge of the endogenous mechanisms animals use to keep time, the cues used to adjust timing, and the extent to which programmed seasonal cycles are physiologically plastic. This study will investigate the mechanisms that underlie plasticity in the seasonal induction of the neuroendocrine signals that trigger the termination of hibernation and onset of reproduction in ground squirrels.

Where Are They?

Photo by Andre WilleA view of the Brooks Range near Toolik Lake, Alaska. Photo by Andre Wille. From Fairbanks, Alaska the team will embark 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 will be accessed by pick-up truck or on foot.

Expedition Map


You gotta love these guys. GoPro shot at burrow Yesterday was Earth Day, and as you know, I spent the evening marching for science and attending a friendly bonfire. What you may not know is that earlier that day, despite being Saturday, we were still working. It was our first day working at the Toolik field site, and that meant I had to learn to drive a snowmachine. Actually, there was no learning, just get on and go and try not to fall off or lose Cory's trail. He is quick. I am slow. Oh so slow. I think I was more of a deterrent to him getting work done than helpful. His machine had a...
Earth Day 2017 March for Science March for Science at Toolik Lake When I first heard of the March for Science, I was all in. There has been a lot of science denial recently, and I felt angry. Angry that people are demonizing science, as if it's a bad thing that we should fear rather than something everyone benefits from. But then I realized something. For most people, it's probably just a misunderstanding. Most of us don't interact regularly with scientists, and don't really know what they do. Most of us couldn't name a single living scientist or their contributions. We hear the terms...
Yesterday I woke up feeling tired. I had gone to sleep late after watching the northern lights. After breakfast, I said goodbye to Helen and Dylan (who headed back to Fairbanks), and worked a bit on my upcoming live PolarConnect events. Be sure to sign up here on the website if you're free then, and you can ask me questions while I show you a squirrel. Squirrel tracks in the snow. After lunch we headed back to Atigun to drop off the three squirrels we processed the night before, and I decided to try out the GoPro. It's new for me, and I thought we could start with just filming the...
Wolf tracks
How to spot the Aurora Borealis at Toolik Field Station in Spring: Check the forecast for the Aurora before bed. Check. Set alarm for a time when it seems dark enough to see it, like 1am. Check. Go to bed as early as possible to get up at 1am. Check. Wake up at 1am. Check. Spend several minutes getting dressed in the dark to brave the Arctic night. Check. Go outside quietly so as not to wake up your neighbors through the thin walls. Check. Stare at the sky in wonderment and awe while the sky turns green and purple with the Northern Lights. Fail. Ok, sometimes you plan everything perfectly...
Caribou 3
When I woke up this morning it was windy, and I thought we might not get much done. I was wrong. After breakfast I had a little time to retreat to my room, and I called my grandma. I usually call on Sundays, but I'm still getting used to the schedule here, as well as being three hours behind her rather than 7 hours ahead. Afterwards, the team had an orientation for the snowmachines. Cory has a lot of experience on them, and Helen spent a couple weeks up here in February helping on a different project, and most of the work was done by snowmachine, so the orientation was mostly for me. There...

Project Information

13 April 2017 to 5 May 2017
Location: Toolik Field Station, Alaska
Project Funded Title: Collaborative Research: Neuroendocrine modulation of circannual rhythms in mammals

Meet the Team

Jennifer Baldacci's picture
International School of Basel

Jennifer Baldacci was born in Chicago and grew up in Florida, where she developed a love of nature. She studied Biology at Florida State University, followed by master's degrees in Entomology and Ecology from UC Davis and Boston University. Throughout her studies, she had amazing opportunities to do field research with excellent instructors in both temperate and tropical climates. She later worked as a zookeeper in Boston and as an endangered bat consultant.

After an inspiring year of traveling around the world, Ms. Baldacci decided to become a teacher to share her interests in science with others. She has been teaching for ten years and works at the International School of Basel in Switzerland, where she enjoys teaching 8th grade Science and high school Biology and Chemistry to students from over 50 nationalities. She works hard to be a positive role model for her students, and to encourage them to become passionate learners. Ms. Baldacci is excited to have the opportunity to work with Team Squirrel in the Arctic to remind her students that there are always new discoveries to be made.

Cory Williams's picture
Northern Arizona University
Flagstaff, AZ
United States

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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Latest Comments

Hi Annika. Good question. I'll try to get a photo for you, but yes, the squirrels from the Atigun field site do stay the night inside of the lab. They are in their traps, which are placed on...
Hi Melitta. Good question. As far as the burrow size and number of exits, it is variable. A lot of it has to do with soil type. Cory said he has seen squirrels go in one hole and come out of another...
So glad they loved it! Tell them I'm excited to talk to them again on Thursday! From: PolarTREC <> To: <> Sent: 4/24/2017 11:42...
Hi Jennifer, I did not have time yet to show the squirrel video to the students, maybe tomorrow. Here is my question: How big are the ground squirrel homes (m2) and how many exits do they have on...
My students loved this video! So cool!