Major RMBL Research Areas

Dr. John Harte at the Warming Meadow. Photo from RMBL Archives

Research conducted at RMBL over the many decades since it was founded has produced a rich understanding of the geology, climate, and ecology of the Upper East River Valley. Such understanding is an inevitable consequence of bringing scientists with diverse areas of expertise together in one place over a long period of time. Knowledge gleaned by the first scientists forms a platform for new research projects, each of which itself provides the foundation for asking and answering yet more questions. In other words, knowledge begets more knowledge. Furthermore, when scientists who are exploring different questions with different organisms talk to one another, each understands better the interconnections between their study organisms and the larger ecological context.

Scientific knowledge begets knowledge in much the same way that biological lineages form: a pioneering scientist enlists students and collaborators to pursue a research thread, and these in turn enlist their students and colleagues to ask questions that enrich understanding of the study system. As time goes, the deep understanding of one place serves as a “case study” that informs research in other places around the world.

The diversity, depth, and long-term nature of research at RMBL make the area around Gothic, Colorado a particularly well-understood ecosystem. While scientists can use RMBL’s facilities to study any topics relevant to the environs, a number of research themes at RMBL have developed into mature case studies with international recognition.

Biological Responses to Climate Change

Climate change is a well-studied area at RMBL, fueled by researchers like John Harte who has been heating a Rocky Mountain meadow to measure what global warming might mean for plant communities. Check out our Biology of Climate Change and Warming Meadow Experiment modules for more information.

Pollination Biology

Photo from RMBL Archives

Pollination biology is another historical research strength of the lab that developed into a major research strength at RMBL after a cohort of graduate students interested in pollination came to RMBL in the 1970s to conduct their doctoral research. That initial research has now spawned at least four generations of pollination research at RMBL. Since “introduced honeybees” do not survive at higher elevations such as the RMBL, a number of scientists, including Diane Campbell, David Inouye, Mary Price, James Thomson, and Nickolas Waser, who are interested in native pollination systems, continue to work at RMBL. Check out our Pollination Biology Module to learn more.

Marmot Research

The lab is home to one of the longest running mark-recapture studies of a non-game animal in the world. Ken Armitage started a study of yellow-bellied marmots in 1962 and Dan Blumstein and his students and colleagues are continuing and expanding on that work. Check out our Ecology of Fear Module for an in-depth investigation on marmot behavior.

Stream Ecology

Photo from RMBL Archives

Stream ecology is another long-term research focus at RMBL. David Allan conducted work on streams around Gothic in the 1970s. Barbara Peckarsky, one of the world’s top stream ecologists, has been working on these high-altitude streams for 30+ years with collaborators from around the world.


DSCN7260_small_polllination[1]Charles Remington, an influential figure in the study of butterflies, spent a number of years working on the genetics of butterflies at RMBL. A number of other scientists, such as Paul R. Ehrlich, Carol Boggs, Ward Watt (President of the California Academy of Sciences), and Naomi Pierce, have also spent time working on butterfly research at RMBL.


51FMpyVyaXL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Environmental Policy

While not a RMBL research strength, a number of scientists who have had an influence on environmental policy have worked at RMBL at some point in their careers, including John P Holdren (President Obama’s National Science Advisor), Paul Ehrlich (author of The Population Bomb), Michael Soule (founder of Conservation Biology), John Cairns (member of the National Academy of Sciences), and Theo Colborn (author of Our Stolen Future).