Hey All,

    Our Team Vole meeting just concluded. While the majority of us are burned out with Zoom, I have to say I am grateful it exists. Without it, I couldn't have sat in on a meeting with people from all over country- from Texas to Alaska to Maine. There are so many moving pieces to organizing an experiment like this, not least of which being the number of people to coordinate at multiple research sites with varying arrival times and purposes. But, with the power of Zoom, it was accomplished.

    It is easy to think of science as happening in a lab setting, a place that is controllable, pristine, and inside. While that is the case in some scenarios, it simply is not when it comes to this type of work- inter-disciplinary, international, climate science. One of the main conversations I listened in on had to do with when the snow will be melted enough to not only perform the experiment, but also do things like repair fences, create new frames for experiments, and decide how often various measurements are being taken. One of the complicating factors for these things is something that can't be controlled easily: Snow melt. The three different experiment locations have different weather, and so the snow melts at different rates. Just another factor to take into account.

    While it was fascinating to listen to the conversation meander between logistics, scientific thought and process, and technology woes, I was struck by the sort of hilarity of being part of a team called Team Vole.

    So, let's talk about voles.

    A vole eating an apple on a person's lap
    Vole With Apple, Credit: Elizabeth Backman, 2021

    According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game: "Voles are rodents that have fuzzy coats and short tails. They mainly live in and eat grass. They are scientifically distinguished from other Alaska mice by having the grinding surfaces of the molars flat-crowned with an enamel pattern composed of alternating triangles. Seven species of voles occur in Alaska.

    There are two genera of voles in Alaska within the family Muridae. The red-backed voles have a grayish pelage on their undersides and reddish or rusty-colored backs. These rodents are small, weighing 6–42 grams, and ranging from 130–158 mm in length."

    A map from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game shows the range of habitat these animals.

    Northern Red-backed Vole, Map, Credit: Alaska Department of Fish and Game

    So what's the deal with voles? Why aren't we counting polar bears? (Look, it's not that polar bears aren't important, they are, but...) Many species of plants and animals live in the area that Dr. Mclaren and Team Vole are investigating. Each of these species of plants and animals represents a measurement of the ecosystem. In this team's case, small mammals are their measuring stick, as well as various other plant and soil markers.

    I'm looking forward to learning and sharing much more about these measurements and markers, and being able to document this process for the team. More meetings to come, and soon enough... departure!

    Cheers, Mrs. J

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    Janet Warburton

    Hi Jenn,
    This is so exciting! I'm glad you got to have a team meeting. I agree that Zoom has its benefits! We are looking forward to your upcoming expedition.

    Lucy C.


    I love the way you explained voles as a measure of ecosystem health! Can’t wait to learn more about your expedition!