Now Archived! PolarConnect event with Jenn Baldacci and "Team Squirrel" from Toolik Field Station in Alaska. You can access this and other events on the PolarConnect Archives webpage.
What Are They Doing?
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?
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.
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.