Photo: Steve Bunk

Dave Tinnin, field research associate in the University of New Mexico's biology department, takes blood samples and measurements of rodents caught on the research station grounds.
At the end of a freeway exit near Soccoro, N.M., the hairpin turn onto a gravel road is marked by a sign that warns, "Wrong Way." But it isn't the wrong way if you want to reach the University of New Mexico's (UNM) long-term ecological research (LTER) station. The sign's subterfuge is the first indication that you are approaching the world's only outdoor Biosafety Level 4 laboratory.

From a cluster of adobe-style buildings crouched below a rocky plateau on the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, UNM staff manage their studies of a quarter-million-acre "biome transition zone" encompassing desert, prairie, plateau, and woodlands. All four of these ecosystems yield the research station's star resident: a beguiling little rodent with doelike eyes called Peromyscus...

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