Animal Info - Vancouver Island Marmot

(Other Name: Vancouver Marmot)

Marmota vancouverensis

Status: Endangered


Contents

1. Profile (Picture)
2. Tidbits
3. Status and Trends (IUCN Status, Countries Where Currently Found, Population Estimates, History of Distribution, Threats and Reasons for Decline)
4. Data on Biology and Ecology (Weight, Habitat, Age to Maturity, Gestation Period, Birth Season, Birth Rate, Early Development, Dispersal, Maximum Age, Diet, Behavior, Social Organization, Mortality and Survival)
5. References


Profile

Pictures: Vancouver Island Marmot #1 (yearling female) (21 Kb JPEG), Vancouver Island Marmot #2 (pup) (32 Kb JPEG), and Vancouver Island Marmot #3 ("Mom") (71 Kb JPEG) (Vanc. Is. Marm. Recov. Found.)

The Vancouver Island marmot is a housecat-sized rodent weighing 3 - 6.5 kg (6.6 - 14.3 lb). It  prefers sub-alpine open areas above 1000 m (3300'), in south to west-facing meadows. The flowering parts of alpine plants are its preferred food. The Vancouver Island marmot prefers open areas that provide good soil for burrowing, plentiful herbs and forbs to eat, and suitable rocks for lookout spots. It lives in colonies comprised of one or more family groups, and monogamous pairings are the norm.

The Vancouver Island marmot has never been abundant in historic times. It is endemic to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. By 1990 it had been reduced to 1/3 of its former range in the mountains of Vancouver Island, due in part to habitat disruption caused by logging.

"With a population numbering fewer that 100 animals, Vancouver Island marmots must be considered as one of North America's most critically endangered mammals. Only by increasing both their numbers and distribution can the future of this engaging rodent be secured. For this reason the Recovery Plan emphasizes captive-breeding combined with marmot reintroductions to formerly occupied sites." (Bryant 1998)


Tidbits

*** The Vancouver Island marmot is one of the world's rarest mammals.

*** The Vancouver Island marmot was first described by scientists in 1911.

*** Punxutawney Phil, the groundhog from Punxutawney, Pennsylvania, USA, whose peek at his own shadow on Groundhog Day is an annual harbinger of Spring, is actually a marmot.   "Groundhog" and "woodchuck" are different names for this species of marmot that is common in the Eastern USA (Marmota monax).


Status and Trends

IUCN Status:

Countries Where the Vancouver Island Marmot Is Currently Found:

2004: Occurs in Canada (British Columbia) (IUCN 2004).

Population Estimates:

[Note: Figures given are for wild populations only.]

WORLD (Canada): A number of publications have listed estimates for Vancouver Island marmot population levels since the early 1980's.  All of the estimates are in the range of 100 - 400 individuals (e.g. Nowak & Paradiso 1983, Burton & Pearson 1987, Oryx 1987e, Oryx 1990c, Nagorsen 1998, Nowak 1999, WCMC et al. 2000). A number of these are "guesstimates." Bryant has re-analyzed the available data from different years to provide consistent estimates:  Population Trends (5 Kb GIF) (Vanc. Is. Marm. Recov. Found.). These estimates increased from 100 - 150 in the 1970's to approximately 300 in the middle 1980's, but they have declined recently, and in 1998 there were probably less than 100 individuals. (Bryant 1998)

2001: At the end of summer 2001, there were 24 animals confirmed alive in the wild - a figure lower than ever before. (Bryant 2002)
2003: Approximately 30 (Vanc. Is. Marm. Recov. Found. 2003)  
2004: Approximately 30 (Vanc. Is. Marm. Recov. Found. 2004)  
2005: 29 (Vanc. Is. Marm. Recov. Found. 2005)  

History of Distribution:

The Vancouver Island marmot has never been abundant in historic times. It is endemic to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. By 1990 it had been reduced to 1/3 of its former range in the mountains of Vancouver Island. With the exception of 2 sites on Mt. Washington, 75 km (47 mi) from the other colonies, all colonies or potential colonies active since 1979 were located within the Nanaimo, Cowichan, Chemainus, Nitinat and Cameron River drainages on south-central Vancouver Island (Bryant 1998).

Marmots expanded into recently clear-cut areas above 700 m (2300') during the 1980's, but these populations declined sharply after 1994.  Populations in natural habitats apparently declined steadily after the early 1980's. (Bryant 1998)

A captive breeding program which began in 1997 produced a captive population of more than 100 marmots by 2005.  The size of this population has been sufficient to allow for the reintroduction of marmots into the wild population over the last several years. (Vanc. Is. Marm. Recov. Found. 2005)

Distribution Map #1 (17 Kb GIF) (Vanc. Is. Marm. Recov. Found. 2005) 
Distribution Map #2 (16 KB) (NatureServe Explorer) 

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

Tree encroachment limits the Vancouver Island marmot, and natural succession since the most recent glacial period provides a fundamental explanation for its overall scarcity. Recent declines likely involve some combination of the following factors: newly logged areas, which attract marmots to form temporarily successful colonies but prevent them from dispersing to natural habitats which result in higher long-term survival; weather fluctuations; and changing deer numbers and the resulting responses by predators such as cougars and wolves.  The relative importance of different causes of mortality is unclear. (Bryant 1998)

"With a population numbering fewer that 100 animals, Vancouver Island marmots must be considered as one of North America's most critically endangered mammals. Only by increasing both their numbers and distribution can the future of this engaging rodent be secured. For this reason the Recovery Plan emphasizes captive-breeding combined with marmot reintroductions to formerly occupied sites." (Bryant 1998)


Data on Biology and Ecology

Weight:

The Vancouver Island marmot weighs about 3 kg (6.6 lb) kg in May, 6.5 kg (14.3 lb) in September. Males are heavier than females.

Habitat:

The Vancouver Island marmot prefers sub-alpine open areas that provide good soil for burrowing, plentiful herbs and forbs to eat, and suitable rocks for lookout spots.  Most animals are found at elevations above 1000 m (3300'), in south to west-facing meadows. They also inhabit logged habitats, and may do well there temporarily. (Bryant 1998)

Age to Maturity:

Most animals do not breed until age 4 (average = 4.00, SD = 0.82, n = 13). (Bryant 1996b)

Gestation Period:

Marmots have a gestation period of approximately 30 days.

Birth Season:

Marmot pups are born in late May or early June (and emerge from their burrows about a month later).

Birth Rate:

Data on litter size for 43 litters averaged 3.3 pups.  Litters of 3 - 4 were most common. (Bryant 1998) The interval between births is at least 1 year (average = 1.83, SD = 0.76, n = 6). Marmots occupy logged-over areas, but the net reproductive value of marmot colonies in clear-cut habitats was less than half that of natural colonies. (Bryant 1996b)

Early Development:

Young marmots first emerge from their burrows in late June or early July (Bryant & Janz 1996). They remain near their natal burrow for at least their first year, often hibernating with their mother (Bryant 1996b).

Dispersal:

In five cases of ear-tagged dispersing Vancouver Island marmots, the maximum movement was less than 7 km (4 mi). Both males and females can disperse, but only a fraction of animals (perhaps 30%) actually do so. Most individuals remain to take over their natal home range. Those individuals that disperse apparently do so at an age of 2 or 3 years." (Bryant 1996b, Bryant 1998)

Maximum Age:

At least 10 years.

Diet:

The Vancouver Island marmot is a herbivore. Its preferred food is comprised of the flowering parts of a wide variety of alpine plants.

Behavior:

Marmots generally are deep hibernators, hibernating from mid-September until late April or early May. During the summer they accumulate fat reserves, amounting to about 20% of their total body weight, which they live off of while they are hibernating.

Social Organization:

The Vancouver Island marmot lives in colonies comprised of one or more family groups.   Families usually include an adult male, one or more adult females and a variable number of sub-adults, yearlings and young-of-the-year. Monogamous pairings are the norm.

Reproductive colonies typically contained fewer than 5 adults (average = 3.86, SE = 0.61, n = 34). (Bryant & Janz 1996)

Mortality and Survival:

Unsuccessful hibernation and predation are the most important causes of mortality, especially for pups. Most marmots die during hibernation, when they are weakest. Marmots inhabiting recently logged habitats show significantly lower survival rates. Only 54% of juvenile marmots survive their first winter in natural habitats; in recently logged sites the figure falls to 43%. (Bryant 1998 ).


References

Arkive, Bryant 1996, Bryant 1996b, Bryant 1998, Bryant 1998a, Bryant 1999, Bryant 2002, Bryant & Janz 1996, Bryant et al. 1998, Burton & Pearson 1987, IUCN 1994, IUCN 1996, IUCN 2000, IUCN 2003a, IUCN 2004, Lidicker 1989, Nagorsen 1998, NatureServe Explorer, Nowak 1999, Nowak & Paradiso 1983, Oryx 1987e, Oryx 1990c, Vanc. Is. Marm. Recov. Found. 2005, WCMC et al. 2000, WCMC/WWF 1997x


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Last modified: February 12, 2005;

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