The case of the missing marmots: Are metapopulation dynamics or range-wide declines responsible?

Suzanne C. Griffin, Mark L. Taper, Roger Hoffman, L. Scott Mills

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16 Scopus citations


In the mid-1990s, anecdotal reports of Olympic marmot (Marmota olympus) disappearances from historically occupied locations suggested that the species might be declining. Concern was heightened by the precipitous decline of the Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis), coupled with reports that climate change was affecting other high-elevation species. However, it was unclear whether the Olympic marmot was declining or undergoing natural extinctions and recolonizations; distinguishing between normal metapopulation processes and population declines in naturally fragmented species can be difficult. From 2002-2006, we used multiple approaches to evaluate the population status of the Olympic marmot. We surveyed sites for which there were records indicating regular occupancy in the later half of the 20th century and we conducted range-wide surveys of open high-elevation habitat to establish current and recent distribution. We used these targeted and general habitat surveys to identify locations and regions that have undergone extinctions or colonizations in the past 1-4 decades. Simultaneously, we conducted detailed demographic studies, using marked and radio-tagged marmots, to estimate the observed and projected current population growth rate at nine locations. The habitat surveys indicate that local extinctions have been wide-spread, while no recolonizations were detected. Abundance at most intensive study sites declined from 2002-2006 and the demographic data indicate that these local declines are ongoing. Adult female survival in particular is considerably lower than it was historically. The spatial pattern of the extinctions is inconsistent with observed metapopulation dynamics in other marmot species and, together with very low observed dispersal rates, indicates that population is not at equilibrium.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1293-1309
Number of pages17
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2008


  • Marmota olympus
  • Metapopulation dynamics
  • Non-equilibrium dynamics
  • Olympic National Park
  • Olympic marmot


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