Colorado State University Graduate Student Studies How Climate Change Affects Alpine Animals

Colorado State University ecology graduate student Greg Wann has been awarded the Leslie Fidel Bailey Fellowship from the Rocky Mountain Nature Association to study how changes in climate affect animal species in alpine habitats.

Wann will study the white-tailed ptarmigan – a bird species that lives solely at or above treeline – in the Trail Ridge Road area of Rocky Mountain National Park. Animals that live in alpine areas often lack the ability to adapt and are easily affected by rapidly changing climates.

“High alpine ecosystems are thought to be highly vulnerable to changing climatic conditions expected under current warming trends and projected future scenarios,” Wann said. “But the impact of climate alterations on species dependent on alpine habitats is largely unknown.”

A warmer climate allows for trees and shrubs to advance to higher elevations, which reduces the size of the alpine ecosystem.

Wann will compare his data to a long-term study of the white-tailed ptarmigan that the Colorado Division of Wildlife conducted inside Rocky Mountain National Park from 1966-2000. Comprehensive data sets of alpine species are rare, so Wann’s study provides a unique opportunity to track how climate change affects alpine animals.

Wann will capture, tag and document white-tailed ptarmigans at elevations of 11,000 to 11,700 feet in areas adjacent to Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. He will use the same capture and tag methods used by the Division of Wildlife in the earlier study.

The Rocky Mountain Nature Association was created in 1931 to protect, maintain and restore Rocky Mountain National Park. In 2005, the association helped form the Rocky Mountain National Park Fund to finance projects for the park.