2020 RMBL Fall Newsletter

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R O C K Y

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FALL 2020

L A B O R A T O R Y


RMBL Board of Trustees Dan Blumstein, PhD Board President

Bruce McLean, JD Board Chair

Diane Campbell, PhD Secretary

Brian Wildes, MBA Treasurer

Jill Anderson, PhD Aimee Classen, PhD Jennifer Darnell, PhD Kurt Giesselman, MBA Elizabeth Hughes, PhD John Haley, MD Amy Iler, PhD Kailen Mooney, PhD Ken Williams, PhD RMBL Staff Ian Billick, PhD Executive Director

Kelly Sudderth, CPA Chief Operating Officer

Steve Jennison Director of Facilities

Jennifer Reithel, PhD Science Director

Brett Biebuyck Director of Administration

billy barr Accountant

Ian Breckheimer, PhD Research Scientist in Spatial Ecology and Data Synthesis

Ben Calvin Finance and Database Coordinator Ann Colbert Youth Programs Manager

Erin Fabbre Development Coordinator

Katie Harper Administrative Coordinator Rick Horn Gothic Store and Visitor Center Manager Jen Pierson Bookkeeper Shannon Sprott GIS/GPS Coordinator Cover photo Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory The road to Gothic

Photo by Jimmy Lee

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Dear RMBL Members, Friends, and Community

It’s one thing to talk about “resiliency,” but another to see it

in action. Because we curate one of the largest collections of long-term field studies, RMBL prepares for inevitable downturns. In 90+ years, RMBL has survived a world war and economic downturns. Slopes filled with beetle-killed trees suggested fire would be our next challenge, but it was the microbiome, in the form of a coronavirus, that tested us. Financial Resiliency

Community Resiliency

Resiliency through Leadership

Global Resiliency

Even as field stations across the

RMBL’s strength ultimately stems not from the size of our financial reserves but from our community. It starts with the exceptional dedication of the scientists, and extends to RMBL Board members, alumni, Marmot Club members, Gunnison County residents, staff, donors, and volunteers, who all play critical roles. Beyond being a collection of individuals, our strength is a culture that harnesses a diversity of backgrounds and experiences to make decisions and constantly improve.

We often brag about the quality of RMBL science, research which is published in the most prestigious journals and regularly covered in top media outlets. But RMBL’s greatest impact is training. With an increased focus on the ability to combine natural history skills, cutting edge research techniques, and soft skills like communication and the ability to work in collaborative teams, RMBL is training the next generation of scientists. Our alumni fill faculty and research positions and serve in leadership roles in government and business. Many of these individuals return to Gothic, conducting research and mentoring students, building upon RMBL’s community.

Most importantly, in building the

country closed, we explored how we could reduce impacts to long-term research and early career scientists. Could we open Gothic safely? How would we cover costs if no one came? The primary motivation for the longplanned easement on Gothic was to demonstrate RMBL’s commitment to the Gunnison Basin in perpetuity. However, the projected $1+ million in proceeds from tax credits associated with the easement took on new meaning as we analyzed the financial consequences of different scenarios. With this financial backstop we moved forward despite the uncertainty. Scientists conducted core research. We had a full education program but no cases of the virus. And, in significant part due to our supporters, we anticipate only a minimal draw on our reserves.

next generation of environmental leaders, RMBL is contributing to a more resilient world. RMBL generates not only the knowledge needed to maintain critical ecosystem processes, but the individuals to utilize that knowledge. Without scientists, information does not become knowledge. Without leaders, knowledge does not change the world. We thank you for being part of what makes RMBL a resilient organization, and through RMBL, creating a more resilient world! Ian Billick, PhD Daniel Blumstein, PhD Bruce McLean, JD Kelly Sudderth, CPA

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Field stations have never been more important

The current epidemic underscores the importance of the environment to humans. A zoonotic disease jumping from animals to humans, the current coronavirus has locked down much of the world. Just as the opening of trade routes introduced coffee to Europe, and horses to North America, disease piggybacks on human movement. In the mid-1300s, three out of ten Europeans died when the Black Death flowed west through the Silk Road; the construction of the Panama Canal was inextricably linked with yellow fever; and, in what has been called the first major confrontation between modern science and nature, up to ten percent of young people died from the 1918 influenza pandemic after World War I.

Bee at work

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Photo by Jimmy Lee

While economic growth is often placed in opposition to human health and the environmental sustainability, all are integral to human well-being. Research has found that controlling the spread of the virus is critical to economic growth. Environmental health also underpins the economy; the value of ecosystem services, including food production, environmental-generated tourism, and medicine, are worth trillions of dollars annually. We have much to mine from biology. Winner of the Nobel for Physiology/Medicine, Dr. Karl von Frisch, wrote “the bee’s life is like a magic well; the more you draw from it, the more it fills with water.” Maybe it is no surprise, then, that multiple RMBL scientists have used bees, social organisms whose hives model cities, to understand the spread of human disease. Field stations open our eyes to understanding not just the bees, but also the wildflowers they visit and all the ecosystem processes in which they are embedded. Rooted in place and time, the scientific research conducted in field stations encourages interdisciplinary relationships and allows us to peer deep into the complexity of life, glimpsing biological processes crafted by evolutionary pressures acting across millions of years.

Field stations also inspire. As Dr. E.O. Wilson put it, field stations “serve as the key centers of education,” as they are training grounds for recruiting scientists across all branches of study. Scratch the surface of a scientific endeavor, in business or academics, and you are likely to find a RMBL alum. After a summer as an undergrad at RMBL, Dr. Brian Krueger now serves as Associate Vice President of R&D for LabCorp. Under his leadership, LabCorp has conducted more than ten percent of coronavirus tests in the United States. The words Robert Kennedy spoke 50 years ago are true today: “Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty, but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.” President John F. Kennedy put us on the path to reach the moon because it would force us to reach for the best of our abilities. Please join RMBL as we reach to harness human ingenuity for a sustainable and resilient world.


Meet Erin Fabbre, Development Coordinator Erin Fabbre’s first encounter with RMBL was rugged. An undergraduate at the University of Arizona, she had just pulled up to her primitive cabin in the dark. There was no bathroom in sight, bats were flying everywhere, and a marmot was peeking up from the floorboards. She was skeptical, but the sun came up and she felt home. It was Bill Calder, a long-time RMBL researcher, who suggested she spend a summer at RMBL. Erin studied ecology and evolutionary biology, and when she got to RMBL, something clicked. She quickly thought, “These are my people.” 20 years later, Gothic is still the place that is calling to her. As our development coordinator, she has passed on her RMBL love to her kids, Cooper (9) and Sylvie (6), who participate in RMBL’s youth science programming every summer.

Peeler waterfall at sunset

Photo by Jimmy Lee

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Introducing Jimmy Lee, Undergraduate Education Program Coordinator If you know Jimmy Lee only as RMBL’s undergraduate education program coordinator or even as an associate professor at East Los Angeles College, you don’t really know Jimmy Lee. Underneath his calm exterior is an adventure hound. He once taught molecular biology techniques to graduate students in McMurdo Station, Antarctica (Gothic weather is nothing to him). A guy who can’t swim, he’s managed to scuba. Maybe it’s DNA. His intrepid parents, a clerk and a schoolteacher, fled Vietnam as refugees. Jimmy is the first in his family to graduate from college, going on to earn his PhD in biomedical science from University of California, Riverside. In more familiar activities, he enjoys photography. But unlike most casual photographers, he keeps track of his images, organizing them into scrapbooks. No wonder he was attracted to science in third grade. He learned that all things could be characterized, cataloged, and classified. Now Jimmy says that his best memories involve seeing and being with wildlife. Which makes it very fortunate, for him and us, that he’s at RMBL every summer. 2019 students preparing for a hike

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Photo by Jimmy Lee


What makes RMBL unique? Daniel Blumstein, PhD

This summer,

I was fortunate to work at RMBL. Echoing its origins as a ghost town, Gothic only reached two thirds of its normal capacity. Many scientists were missing. This absence made me more aware of how RMBL’s rich scientific community enables synthesis and collaboration. I’ve worked at field stations and marine labs throughout the world and can say without reservation that RMBL is special. Long-term research is critical to understanding the world and we host not one, but many, longterm research projects. While many field studies last two or three years, RMBL projects span the decades that are needed to study natural selection in the wild and identify responses to environmental changes. Uniquely, these long-term studies can be combined with research on easily accessible elevational gradients to gain further insights into what the future holds. Moving down in elevation is like moving forward in time.

leadership in 2001. Given how rare it is for long-term projects to be handed over to a younger generation, RMBL serves as an international model!

ice by breaking bread. Much of what I know about scientific policy was learned over wine and dinner with Paul and Anne Ehrlich, and John and Mel

As we emerge from our current pandemic, I look forward to getting back to the “normal” RMBL, one filled with researchers, students and families. One filled with dinner parties and generative conversations. One filled with our future ecologists. And one that continues to be a place that will generate novel insights

And I have learned it’s the people that make RMBL special. Many of the other field stations

Yellow-bellied marmot takes a seat at Gothic

Remarkably, some projects now span human generations. After arriving late to RMBL this year, I bumped into Brian Inouye and Nora Underwood censusing one of the wildflower plots that Nora’s father-in-law, David Inouye, started in 1973, literally following “family plots.” Ken Armitage generously transferred the long-term marmot project to my

I’ve worked at excellent ield sites, yet they were mostly deserted. In Gothic, relationships are cultivated within a vibrant community, one that we’ve worked hard to ensure is fully representative of our country’s diversity. Here, far away from our departmental responsibilities, we break the

Any one of these projects is enough to make RMBL unique. But our ability to weave together insights across studies, merging new techniques with long-term studies, and crossing disciplines, makes RMBL a treasure for generating insights that inform how we understand all ecosystems.

Photo by Jimmy Lee

that will help us navigate an uncertain future.

Harte. RMBL’s seminar series brings in cutting edge scientists from around the world, broadening our perspectives. I’ve not been to any field facility that comes close to RMBL in how it welcomes families and in doing so, the community sows the long-term commitments that lead to long-term research.

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Education

For 93 years,

training college students has been central to RMBL’s mission. This summer ended no differently. Amid last minute field data collection, and the realization that if a Gothic climb was going to happen, it needed to happen now, students gave research talks on marmots, pollination, stream insects, and ecosystem processes. But if you looked closely, things were a bit off. Students talked on Zoom, not in crowded Barclay classrooms. There was no final cricket game. And very astute observers might notice that billy’s chocolate was not to be found in his office, but at an appropriate social distance on the railing outside, with hand sanitizer close by. We were fortunate the program happened. Early in the pandemic, when it was unclear if visitors would be allowed into Gunnison Valley this summer, we frantically explored online opportunities, including using existing data sets and Zoom to support interactions between students and scientists. With our focus on field research, this seemed a bit hollow.

Barclay cabin Photo by Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

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Our first break came when the National Science Foundation agreed to fund ten students living in the Gunnison Basin, (Western Colorado University or students marooned at home) and two Western faculty, Dr. Jennie DeMarco and Oliver Wilmot. Research involves collaboration, so research teams that included students collecting data, with other, distant students supporting experimental design, data analysis, and literature reviews, felt authentic. The value of the collaborative approach was underscored by the fact that several long-term research programs only happened because of the undergraduates. We caught our next big break when the county started allowing visitors in late May. We had previously decided to open Gothic, just in case, and

designed a program that allowed students’ participation here or from home. Seventy-five percent of national programs were canceled, drastically diminishing research opportunities for students. We were able to pick up several wonderful students from canceled programs and, with Gothic opening, many made last minute decisions to come, made possible for some only because faculty drove them here. Three other elements contributed to the success. Last fall we increased our internet access more than tenfold, making extensive videoconferencing in Gothic possible. Also, the seven bedrooms and two bathrooms and showers in the newly opened Crystal cabin increased our capacity to safely host students and scientists onsite. Finally, the students

were diligent about safety and played a major role in Gothic having no infections. So, given how much uncertainty we started with, we appreciated the normalcy we felt at summer’s end. While the summer was stressful, we learned how to use technology to widen participation. Zoom made faculty more available to students and made it possible for family and non-RMBL mentors to see students talks. Most importantly, in future summers we will offer a limited number of distance digital training opportunities to students who would greatly benefit and otherwise not be able to participate.


Say hi to Science Director Jennie Reithel Jennie Reithel first came to RMBL in 1993 as an undergraduate from Middlebury College. Her professor, Kristina Jones, hired her as a research assistant to study bumblebee behavior and the evolution of floral traits. The work involved sitting in a field of wildflowers and recording bee flower choices into a cassette recorder. Jennie learned that this was considered “work” and she could get paid to do it. She was hooked. Jennie has filled a lot of roles at RMBL over the past few decades, including student, research assistant, winter caretaker, graduate student, summer faculty, REU coordinator, and now science director. She is tied to the place in the same way that many others are – the beauty of the mountains and the RMBL community are what make it special. Every summer brings a fresh mixture of returning and new students, scientists, and their families. She says, “ It’s a privilege and joy to be part of the RMBL community. I cherish every summer.”

Field work with scientist and student intern

Photo by Scott Solomon

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Canny planning and flexibility keep RMBL financially sound Starting in the spring, the virus created a great deal of operational and financial uncertainty. But we quickly realized that the coronavirus was here to stay, so we rolled up our sleeves and went to work. We anticipate ending the year with a deficit of $100,000 or less, which is manageable in the context of RMBL’s financial reserves.

While safety was our top priority this year, facilitating as much research and learning as possible was a close second, something made possible when Gunnison County Public Health officials approved our operating plan just before summer. We have been able to keep permanent staff, which will maintain our overall productivity and efficiency and enable our capacity to pursue

We are grateful for the years of philanthropic support that built these reserves. Thanks to that support, we’re able to weather this storm. strategic plan initiatives such as the North Village campus, investments in spatial ecology, and improvements to the Gothic campus.

Photo by Jimmy Lee

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On a total operating budget of $2 million, operational revenues took a serious hit – as much as a $650,000 decline from what we budgeted for 2020. This was mostly driven by the reduced occupancy in Gothic. Some researchers were unable to visit because their home institutions prohibited travel. We implemented a one person per bedroom policy to mitigate the risks of viral transmission and cancelled activities like our

K-12 summer programs and fall conferences, along with the Gothic store. A look at our revised budget this year reveals a few unusual items – we added porta potties to minimize shared facilities, we sourced more than 40 gallons of hand sanitizer, we printed “Remotely Curious About Science” facemasks and visitor center staff pitched in as couriers, picking up supplies and grocery orders down valley. The dining hall served takeout meals only, with staff, students and researchers socially distancing around the outside of the dining hall. Strange times indeed! We offset the declines in revenues using a mix of strategies. We looked at the cost structure top to bottom and implemented cuts that wouldn’t threaten our longterm strategies, thereby eliminating $480,000 in budgeted expenditures, including significant reductions in dining hall and visitor center operations, the K-12 program, and administrative expenses. We successfully chased federal funding including the Paycheck Protection Program, generating approximately $254,000 in revenue. Ours was among the few biology undergraduate research programs operating this summer. The National Science Foundation increased

their funding of this program from $100,000 to $250,000, which allowed us to reach more students, provided considerable research support, and made a difference financially. This year we learned that RMBL is a strong and resilient organization, one that is able to innovate and flexibly navigate a large-scale disruption. While we can’t predict what the future holds, we know one thing – researchers, students, alumni and donors will continue to return to Gothic summer after summer, and RMBL will be there for them.


Summer 2020

was a successful field season due to the flexibility of the scientists, the hard work of student researchers and local research assistants, and the ingenuity of staff. Of the 100 research projects at RMBL, more than 60% of the scientists or their teams were unable to come to Colorado or significantly delayed their travel. However, even when scientists were unable to travel to Gothic, research programs continued because of undergraduate researchers and research assistants living in the Gunnison Basin that collected core data. Here are a few of the research results from RMBL in 2020. Dr.

Janice Brahney and colleagues published a paper in Science that described the long-range transport of microplastics across the country into remote locations, including deposition in the East River Valley in Gothic. Dr. Cassie Stoddard and collaborators published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences using hummingbirds to explore how birds take advantage of their ability to perceive a much greater number of colors than humans, due to the fact that

they have 4 color cone types in their eyes relative to humans who only have three. Also published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Line Cordes and collaborators showed that climate change impacts on marmots are seasonal; as the climate warms, marmots have higher survival in summer and lower survival in winter. Dr. Dana Chadwick and collaborators published a paper showing that airborne imaging spectroscopy data

can be used in a variety of ecological studies, such as species mapping, assessing drought mortality or characterizing vegetation traits. Overall, forty peer reviewed papers were published in 2019 and 20 have been published in 2020 to date. More information about RMBL publications can be found at the RMBL website rmbl.org/publications

The education staff, Rosemary Smith, Jimmy Lee, and Jennie Reithel, wish to thank the RMBL mentors who helped make the education program a success this summer. Thank you. Ruben Alarcón Jared Balik Dan Blumstein Carol Boggs Ian Breckheimer Diane Campbell Paul CaraDonna Aimée Classen

Jennie DeMarco Mick Demi Rachel Dickson Amy Iler Rebecca Irwin Rachel Kanaziz Kailen Mooney Jocelyn Navarro

Jane Ogilvie Bobbi Peckarsky Will Petry Nitin Ravikanthachari Kelsey Reider Summer Schlageter Rosemary Smith Brad Taylor

Maddy Uetrecht Nora Underwood Dirk Van Vuren Caitlin Wells Howard Whiteman Rick Williams Oliver Wilmot

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Did you know

that you can arrange to have your donations to RMBL given monthly, quarterly, or annually? To those donors who have already chosen to make recurring gifts, we can’t thank you enough. If you’d like to know how to become a recurring donor, visit RMBL.org/donations/ Thank you to our recurring donors!

Alison Brody Haley Davis Henry and Sally Manwell Peter Mariner

Julie Marshall Melissa Merrick Michelle Musil Bradd Schulke

Sunset from Belleview summit looking towards Schofield Park

rmbl.org PO Box 519 Crested Butte, CO 81224 970.349.7231

Kelly and David Sudderth Lara Watt Ken Williams and Janelle Weaver

Photo by Shayn Estes

This biannual newsletter is sent to supporters who have made a donation to RMBL in the last 18 months.

If you would prefer to receive this newsletter electronically, please email dev@rmbl.org. Thank you for your support!


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