Thursday, March 29, 2012

Research Rocks!!!

Props to Noemi, Jonatan, Koko, Olivia and Francisco F. for posting GREAT comments!!
setting my first small mammal live-trap
As you ALL know, I am not a scientist.  Yet here I am on a scientific expedition!  I'm very comfortable with reading literature, as well as writing and talking about my ideas. However, doing scientific research puts my brain in a whole new place. I'm challenging myself to learn and think in new ways.
My job on this expedition - along with the other volunteers - is to prove that animals (especially small mammals that are low on the food chain) are affected by changes in the climate.  The way we test for this is to count HOW MANY small mammals we can find, and WHERE they are located.  We then compare our numbers to the data our Principal Investigators, the scientists Dr. Buesching and Dr. Newman, have collected in previous years.  They have been in charge of this project for over a decade, so there is lots of data!  What this shows is that - as the climate is changing - the numbers of small mammals in Nova Scotia is changing too.

When we began our research earlier this week, we experienced climate change up close.  It is unseasonably cold here, and we had snowfall on our first day setting live-traps!
Dr. Buesching gives a talk on setting live-traps
Don't worry.  Live-traps are for capturing, not killing.  They allow very small mammals to enter (we prepare the traps with food and soft bedding to make them comfortable) but don't allow them to exit.  We are expecting to trap three kinds of Maple-Leaf Mammalians in the live-traps: mice, chipmunks, and voles.

In total, we set fifty live-traps and we're ready to place them in the forest!
Lycos guards the live-traps to make sure they don't want run away...  =)
all answers get credit; first right answer gets a candy bar...the winning post must also include both the where and the why

Where in the forest would a researcher be most likely to set a live-trap and successfully catch a mouse?  Why?

Hint: Remember that mice are low on the food chain and don't have many defenses against predators.  Think about WHERE you've seen mice running inside a room or home.  Why do they choose this specific spot to run along?  What would be the forest equivalent?
The next morning I goofed around with Lycos before we checked the live-traps.  We aren't allowed to take him into the forest because he scares all the small mammals away.

To check the live-traps, we retraced our steps into the forest.  We were curious to see if our traps had attracted any critters.  If the door to a live-trap is shut, we are instructed to carry it to Dr. Buesching for inspection.  Then, under Dr. Buesching's watchful eye, we empty the live-trap into a plastic bag so that any Maple-Leaf Mammalian we trap will not escape.

And...  Drumroll please...  Our team captured two red-backed voles!!

Voles are similar to mice.  However, they don't move as quickly as mice.  They have a rounder, less pointy nose, and a shorter tail.  They are very cute and are not aggressive.  Once we trap any small mammals, we weigh them, note the gender and also record where in the forest we found them.  This data eventually gets transferred from hand-written field notes to a database.  According to our Principal Investigators, Dr. Buesching and Dr. Newman, two voles at this time of year is an extremely low count.

all answers get credit; first right answer gets a candy bar...the winning post must also include both the what and the why

What climate factor might create a low vole count?  Why?

Hint: Re-read this post for weather conditions.  What do many mammals do during the winter?


  1. first challenge question: You would want to place the traps near tunnels at the base of vegetation, paths across leaf litter, moss or soil. Also the edges of boulders and logs because they like to hide from their predators and they like to rub their bodies on the rocks and logs. They are able to move along paths when there is leaf litter better without being spotted.
    Sierra V


      You've won the Challenge Question #1. You are TOTALLY thinking like a scientist. You've earned a Canadian candy bar for your effort! =)

      I'll post a photo of a correctly positioned trap in my next post, and it's EXACTLY to your specifications.

      ~Ms. Elahi

  2. 1. a successful spot for a researcher to catch a mouse would probably be in hidden places, in a forest
    that would be under piles of leaves.

    2. winter and hibernation is probably the reason why there is a low vole count.


    1. Hey Caloy!

      Thanks for answering the Challenge Questions! You are very close on Challenge Question #1 - see Sierra's response above.

      You are TOTALLY correct on Challenge Question #2. YOU WIN A RUNNERS-UP PRIZE!!

      Why am I only giving you a runners-up prize, you ask? Mimi beat you to the punch on that one. She responded to me via email on March 30th with the correct answer which is - as you say - HIBERNATION. The low vole count we are currently experiencing has a lot to do with how cold it is here. Normally, temperatures are heating up at this time, but - while it continues to snow - the voles and other small critters would rather stay bundled up inside, conserving their energy for the warmer months ahead.

      In addition: mice and voles have dark coats that are easy for their predators (such as owls, bobcats and raccoons) to spot in the snow.

      Hope you had a good Spring Break,
      ~Ms. Elahi

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.