Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis)
Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 0925431
The Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) is a fossorial ground squirrel, and one of Canada’s five endemic land mammals. It is behaviourally and morphologically distinct from the other 13 species of marmots found across the globe, and is geographically restricted to the subalpine of Vancouver Island, in the province of British Columbia. Typical habitat for this species includes high elevation meadows and avalanche tracts, usually with diggable soil, boulder complexes, cliffs, and a variety of flowering plants. The Vancouver Island marmot has three primary predators: cougars (Puma concolor), wolves (Canis lupus), and golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos). The primary defense against predation is detection and avoidance, so continuous visibility is likely to be very important to this species. The Vancouver Island marmot hibernates for approximately 210 days of each year.
Predation events linked to landscape-level habitat change drastically reduced marmot populations in the mid-1980’s and early 1990’s, leaving many colonies extinct and remaining populations fragmented. By 1998, there were fewer than 100 animals in the species. Between 1997 and 2004, 55 wild-born marmots were taken into captivity to protect the species from extinction and to establish a captive-breeding population. Since 2003, 301 captive-bred marmots have been implanted with radiotelemetry transmitters and released to 29 mountains to re-establish extinct colonies and to supplement the wild population. Marmots were released with three short-term goals in mind: active season survival, overwinter survival, and release site fidelity.
Release sites vary greatly in their biotic and abiotic conditions. The grant provided by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund will take enable my return to each remote release site to collect data on the representedness of important plant species and on the predation potential in the area immediately surrounding each burrow. I will then combine data on these variables with a set of non-spatial variables thought to influence survival and site fidelity of newly-released marmots. These consist of marmot characteristics like age and sex, and release characteristics like date, group size, and release group relatedness. By incorporating all these variables in generalized linear mixed effects models, I will be able to identify the combination of conditions that give a captive-bred marmot the greatest probability of a successful reintroduction.
The results of this research should improve the success rate of future releases, leading to a more rapid establishment of a stable and wild Vancouver Island marmot population. These results could also assist wildlife managers in identifying habitat priorities for other threatened species of the genus Marmota.
Project 0925431 location - Canada, North America