Marmota camtschaticablack-capped marmot

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Geographic Range

Black-capped marmots (Marmota camtschatica) are Palearctic, or Eurasian mammals that have a patchy distribution throughout northern and eastern Siberia, or the eastern portion of the Russian Federation. There are currently three recognized sub-species of black-capped marmots, and each sub-species is geographically isolated (or occupies a different geographic location). (Boyeskorov, et al., 1994; Brandler, et al., 2010; Erbajeva and Alexeeva, 2009; Semenov, et al., 2001a; Semenov, et al., 2001b)

The first subspecies of black-capped marmots, Kamchatka marmots (M. c. camtschatica) inhabit the Kamchatka, Mil’kovski area along the valley of the Yurtinaya River. The second subspecies, Barguzin marmots (M. c. doppelmayeri) occupy a portion of Buryatia in the Severobaikal’sk area, or more specifically the north-eastern portion of Prebaikalia (Baikal Mountains) as well as the northern portion of Transbaikalia (Barguzin Mountain Range). Lastly, the third subspecies, Yakutian marmots (M. c. bungei) are found along the eastern side of the Lena River in the Kharaulakhskii Mountain Range in Yakutia, Russia. Yakutian marmots occupy one of the most northern parts of Russia, inhabiting the north-eastern part of Yakutia. The range of Yakutian marmots extend from the delta of the Lena River, or along the Kharaulah ridge, south along the Momsky, Chersy, and Verkhoyansky Mountain ridges as well as along the lower part of the Yana River. (Boyeskorov, et al., 1994; Brandler, et al., 2010; Erbajeva and Alexeeva, 2009; Semenov, et al., 2001b)

Habitat

Black-capped marmots inhabit high elevation alpine and sub-alpine regions. Yakutian marmots occupy mountain slopes 20 to 1500 m above sea level. Black-capped marmots in Yakutia is typically observed at altitudes of 1200 to 2000 m. Kamchatka marmots typically inhabit areas 600 to 1500 m above sea level. (Boyeskorov, et al., 1994; Filonov, 1961; Le Berre and Ramousse, 1994; Mosolov and Tokarsky, 1994; Semenov, et al., 2001b; Tokarsky and Valentsev, 1994)

Habitat sites appear to be selected based on altitude, plant composition, and sun exposure. Black-capped marmots prefer bare mountain slopes that are exposed to the maximal amounts of sunlight, which equates to south or south-west facing slopes. Black-capped marmots are often found above the treeline of dwarf pine and alder. Grasslands, steppes, and mixed rock/grass areas seem to be preferred over forested areas and other closed environments. (Boyeskorov, et al., 1994; Le Berre and Ramousse, 1994; Mosolov and Tokarsky, 1994; Semenov, et al., 2001a; Semenov, et al., 2001b; Tokarsky and Valentsev, 1994; Vinogradov and Argiropulo, 1968)

Sites inhabited typically have dry, well-drained, soft or fine soils. The soils may contain silt, but may also have water and glacial deposits that include large boulders, broken rock, and finer deposits. Winter burrows are often created in clay soils. The upland, alpine treeless areas of eastern Siberia and Kamchatka are underlain by permafrost and covered with rocky soil and a few grasses. The black-capped marmots on Kamchatka occupy sites with volcanic deposits in close proximity to an ocean, for the mountain ranges are right next to the Pacific Ocean. Typically, these areas are covered with large loose rocks interspersed with small alpine meadows and shrubs, dwarf birch, and solitary Japanese stone pine (Pinus pumila). (Barash, 1989; Mosolov and Tokarsky, 1994; Semenov, et al., 2000; Vinogradov and Argiropulo, 1968; Zimina and Gerasimov, 1973)

Black-capped marmots are a semi-fossorial species. Permafrost and rock prevents burrowing to extensive depths. Burrows may only reach depths of 0.25 to 0.6 m below the surface, which equates to the depth that the ground thaws during the summer. However, some mountain slopes have thicker soils and thaw to a depth of 1 m, so burrows may reach a depth of 1 m. Furthermore, marmot environments appear different from the surrounding tundra because burrowing and foraging activities of black-capped marmots alter the vegetation community. (Boyeskorov, et al., 1994; Kapitonov, 1978; Le Berre and Ramousse, 1994; Mosolov and Tokarsky, 1994; Semenov, et al., 2001a; Semenov, et al., 2001b; Zimina and Gerasimov, 1973)

Ambient temperatures are usually very low in environments inhabited by black-capped marmots. Ambient temperatures along the Lena River in Yakutia typically range from -34°C in the winter to an average of 12.8°C at the end of July. Summer temperatures across the black-capped marmot range may reach 25°C. In general, winters are long, have little snow, severe frost, and temperatures that may fall as low as -70°C. (Boyeskorov, et al., 1994; Semenov, et al., 2001a; Semenov, et al., 2001b; Semenov, et al., 2000; Zimina and Gerasimov, 1973)

  • Range elevation
    20 to 2000 m
    65.62 to 6561.68 ft
  • Range depth
    1 (high) m
    3.28 (high) ft
  • Average depth
    0.25-0.6 m
    ft

Physical Description

The top of black-capped marmots heads are black from the tip of the nose to behind the ears. The sides of their heads are black to about the level of the eyes, and then sandy yellow mixed with gray below the eyes. A black line carries down the back of the neck to the shoulders. Their lips are black and throats are orange. Their ears are orange to sand colored. Their dorsal guard hairs have three distinct bands of color; dark at the top and bottom and light in the middle. Guard hairs are typically 48 mm long. Their dorsal surface is lighter near the head, becoming darker posteriorly towards the tip of the tail. The dorsal underfur is soft, dark, and light-tipped. On the ventral surface there is no underfur and guard hairs are a yellowish-brown to brownish-red, again with a darker colour present at the base of the hair and potentially at the tip. (Hoffmann, et al., 1979; Steppan, et al., 1999; Vinogradov and Argiropulo, 1968)

Barguzin marmots, at the southern portion of their range, tend to display a browner cap and browner tips on the dorsal guard hairs. The middle portion of the dorsal guard hairs is a light to dark yellowish-beige (buff). The ventral guard hairs are brown to cinnamon in color. Northern subspecies of black-capped marmots, such as Yakutian marmots, display a darker pelage. The middle of the guard hair is ivory to white-yellow in color, and the ventral guard hairs are brown or a cinnamon to reddish-brown. Kamchatka marmots may display yellow-beige or ivory in the middle of its dorsal guard hairs. Ventral guard hairs for Kamchatka marmots are shades of red-, orange-, or yellow-brown in color. (Hoffmann, et al., 1979)

As black-capped marmots get older, their color fades. Juvenile marmots go through three pelage stages. First, juveniles have a soft, dense underfur with a brownish-black to black cap and similar-colored dorsal guard hairs. The initial guard hairs are shed, resulting in the second pelage stage. During the third pelage stage, juveniles grow a pelage that more closely resembles the adults of its species. (Hoffmann, et al., 1979)

The pelage of Alaska marmots is very similar to that of black-capped marmots with the same black cap and dorsal guard hairs. However, the ventral surface of Alaska marmots has a more gray appearance, because of the pattern created by the ventral guard hairs with their dark tips and bases and light center. Hoary marmots have white facial markings and coarser dorsal guard hairs compared to black-capped marmots. Black-capped marmots moult around early to mid-summer, with hair loss beginning on their rump and progressing anteriorly and ventrally. While most of the fur is shed and replaced every year, the fur on the rump to the end of the tail may remain, and in fact may not be shed for an additional year or more. (Hoffmann, et al., 1979; Le Berre and Ramousse, 1994; Steppan, et al., 1999)

Marmots have six pads on the soles of their hindfeet, but the shape of these pads differs for each species. The posterior pair of foot pads in black-capped marmot is elongated compared to Hoary marmots, which have a posterior pair of footpads that are round. Alaska marmots have foot pads that resemble black-capped marmot. The length of the hindfoot for black-capped marmot is 73 to 85 mm. Feet are pentadactyl and digits have large claws that are used for digging. (Hoffmann, et al., 1979; Vinogradov and Argiropulo, 1968)

Black-capped marmots may have five or six pairs of mammae. Those marmots that only have five pairs of mammae often also have one unpaired teat. Black-capped marmots are sexually dimorphic with males larger than females. The average head-body length of male and female black-capped marmots is 473.3 mm and 458.4 mm respectively. (Cardini, 2004; Hoffmann, et al., 1979; Vinogradov and Argiropulo, 1968)

Marmot size, both mass and body length, varies across the geographic range with smaller black-capped marmots noted in the southern part of the range and larger marmots noted in the northern part of the range. The head-body length of a male and female Barguzin marmots were 470 mm and 440 mm respectively. Barguzin marmot males have a tail length of 150 mm while the females have a tail length of 140 mm. Kamchatka marmot males and females have averaged head-body lengths of 508.1 mm and 496.3 mm, respectively; average lengths including tails are 162.4 mm and 153.4 mm, respectively. Yakutian marmot males averaged a head-body length length of 460.0 mm and 133.3 mm including tails. Female members of this subspecies averaged a head-body length of 438.5 mm and a tail length of 124.6 mm. (Hoffmann, et al., 1979; Vinogradov and Argiropulo, 1968)

The mass of black-capped marmots ranges from 2 to 7.5 kg, with greater masses noted just before hibernation and lower masses noted after hibernation. Adult Yakutian marmots weigh approximately 2 to 4 kg. Barguzin marmots weigh around 3 kg, and Kamchatka marmots have an average mass of about 4.5 kg. ("Squirrels", 2006; Bibikov, 1994; Boyeskorov, et al., 1994; Hoffmann, et al., 1979; Mosolov and Tokarsky, 1994; Nowak, 1999; Semenov, et al., 2001a)

Skull lengths range from 78 to 99 mm in black-capped marmots. The angular process of black-capped marmots is not greatly elongated, and is not much longer than the articular process. Other distinguishing skull features of black-capped marmots include: a more noticeable mandibular symphysis; an elongated ventral half of the incisor socket in the jaw; the upper portion of the incisor socket shifted slightly back from the front; and each coronoid process angles towards the back of the skull. Compared to hoary marmots, black-capped marmot have a longer rostra, a longer auditory bulla, zygomatic arches that branch quickly from the maxilla as they travel towards the back of the skull, zygomatic arches with a more rounded appearance, a smaller mastoid width, a larger nasal depression, and deeper angular processes that lower the occiputs in the skull profile. (Cardini, 2004; Hoffmann, et al., 1979; Vinogradov and Argiropulo, 1968; Zimina and Gerasimov, 1973)

The shape of nasal cavities for black-capped marmots is mid-way between that of Alaska marmots and hoary marmots. The margin of the premaxilla in black-capped marmots is almost straight, but the nasal bones narrow slowly until they reach their final length. Black-capped marmots have a defined supraorbital notch on the edge of the frontal. The wing of the orbital does not rise beyond the upper edge of the lacrimal bone. There are subtle differences in the choanal and incisive foramina between the black-capped marmot subspecies. (Boyeskorov, et al., 1994; Hoffmann, et al., 1979)

Male marmots have more pronounced sagittal crests, almost dome-shaped craniums, a small foramen magnum, differences in labial and lingual lower jaw morphologies, and narrower inter- and post-orbital areas on the skull compared to females. The dental formula for black-capped marmots is incisors 1/1, canines 0/0, premolars 2/2, and molars 3/3 totaling 24 teeth. (Cardini, 2004; Hoffmann, et al., 1979)

Black-capped marmots have a diploid karyotype totaling 40 chromosomes (2n=40 or 20 pairs of chromosomes), while other Palearctic diploid species have 38 total chromosomes (2n=38 or 19 pairs of chromosomes). Olympic marmots have the same karyotype as black-capped marmots, and so they are often thought to be more closely related to Nearctic species as opposed to Palearctic species. (Boyeskorov, et al., 1994; Hoffmann, et al., 1979; Le Berre and Ramousse, 1994; Steppan, et al., 1999; Zimina and Gerasimov, 1973)

Despite the numerous similarities in skull morphology, feet morphology, and pelage color between certain Nearctic species (hoary marmots and Alaska marmots) and black-capped marmots, molecular studies, such as those based on Cytochrome b, indicate that Palearctic marmot species form a monophyletic group. Therefore, black-capped marmots do not form a sister group to hoary marmots as has been suggested in the past, and similar features between the two species are convergent evolution. Immunogenetic differences have been noted between the subspecies. (Boeskorov, et al., 1999; Brandler, et al., 2010; Steppan, et al., 1999; Zimina and Gerasimov, 1973)

No information is available regarding specific metabolic rates of black-capped marmots, but energy expenditures may increase by 8 to 15 times between hibernation and active time periods. It has also been noted that animals inhabiting mountainous regions with low temperatures (5 to 10°C) have lower metabolic rates than species that live with higher temperatures (Ward and Armitage, 1981a cited in Barash, 1989). ("Squirrels", 2006; Barash, 1989)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    2.0 to 7.5 kg
    4.41 to 16.52 lb
  • Range length
    450 to 510 mm
    17.72 to 20.08 in

Reproduction

Blacked-caped marmots live in family groups consisting of one dominant reproductive pair and several offspring. Black-capped marmots are monogamous and offspring exhibit delayed maturity and delayed dispersal. As a result, family groups exhibit reproductive suppression and cooperative breeding. Inbreeding may occur if reproductive suppression is not complete. (Allainé, 2000; Blumstein and Armitage, 1999; Kapitonov, 1978; Semenov, et al., 2001a; Semenov, et al., 2001b)

Male and female black-capped marmots reach sexual maturity around 3 years of age. However, because of their social system neither males nor females reproduce for some time after they reach maturity. Female black-capped marmots bear a litter every two or more years. The severe environmental conditions of the habits exploited by black-capped marmots do not allow female marmots to build up enough energy stores to hibernate, grow, reproduce, and maintain daily activities to produce a litter every year. Subordinate females do not produce litters even during the years when the dominant female has not produced a litter. ("Squirrels", 2006; Allainé, 2000; Armitage, 2007; Blumstein and Armitage, 1999; Le Berre and Ramousse, 1994; Mosolov and Tokarsky, 1994; Semenov, et al., 2001b)

Black-capped marmots mate in the burrow, usually in April, before they emerge from hibernation in mid-May. Thus, mating behaviors are not known. Parturition occurs in early to mid-June, and may occur before or up to one to two weeks after the mother emerges from the burrow after hibernation. Information was not available about gestation in black-capped marmots, but gestation in marmots generally last about 30 to 32 days. Marmot offspring are weaned and become independent at least 30 to 42 days after birth, but remain with their parents for several years. Black-capped marmots give birth to offspring that are 33 g and about 107 mm long. The average litter size of black-capped marmots is 5, but litter sizes will vary from 3 to 11. ("Squirrels", 2006; Armitage, 2007; Barash, 1989; Boyeskorov, et al., 1994; Hayssen, et al., 1993; Hoffmann, et al., 1979; Nowak, 1999; Semenov, et al., 2001b; Vinogradov and Argiropulo, 1968)

  • Breeding interval
    Female black-capped marmots bear a litter every two or more years.
  • Breeding season
    Black-capped marmots mate during April.
  • Range number of offspring
    3 to 11
  • Average number of offspring
    5
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 years

Parental investment has not been well-documented for black-capped marmots. Nests are constructed in the burrow from dried vegetation. It is not known whether or not the father or subordinate adults provide additional care for the offspring once they are born, or whether the mother provides sole care. Both parents and subordinates provide thermoregulatory benefits to the juveniles during hibernation by helping maintain an optimal hibernacula temperature. The offspring have the potential to inherit the home range if either of their parents dies. (Allainé, 2000; Armitage, 2007; Blumstein and Armitage, 1999; Nowak, 1999; Semenov, et al., 2001b)

Lifespan/Longevity

The lifespan of black-capped marmots is currently unknown, although most marmot speices are long-lived. ("Squirrels", 2006; Armitage, 1992; Armitage, 2007)

Behavior

Black-capped marmots are a very social species that live in isolated family groups. Family groups include a reproductive pair and its offspring (Kapitonov, 1978 cited in Semenov et al., 2001b). Offspring may include yearlings, juveniles from the current breeding season, and male and female subordinate adults (sexually mature offspring that have not dispersed). Male offspring may disperse into uninhabited territories when they are 2-3 years old. Kamchatka marmot families average 1.8 adult males, 1.7 adult females, and 4.3 young. The size of the family depends on the amount of resources available. Studies have shown that black-capped marmots may move between family groups, indicating that groups may not consist of only close relatives (Mashkin, 2003 cited in Armitage, 2007). A black-capped marmot burrow excavated during the winter revealed two adults, four sub-adults, and four juveniles. This finding supports the theory that the family group not only shares the same summer territory but also exploits joint hibernation. ("Squirrels", 2006; Allainé, 2000; Armitage, 2007; Barash, 1989; Filonov, 1961; Kapitonov, 1978; Mosolov and Tokarsky, 1994; Semenov, et al., 2001a; Semenov, et al., 2001b)

Black-capped marmots are active during the day (diurnal) and sedentary. They forage extensively during the summer to put on weight in preparation for hibernation. Despite almost 24 hours of daylight in summer months, studies have found that black-capped marmots follow a typical diurnal circadian rhythm. At night, black-capped marmots rest and seek shelter in their burrows, but during the day, or when the sun reaches an angle of 17°, aboveground activity begins. Daily activities have not been found to end at a particular angle of the sun as occurs when activities begin. Feeding patterns seem to follow a bi-modal cycle with marmots most active first thing in the day and then again later in the day. When temperatures reach 15-25°C, black-capped marmots seek shelter in their burrows, only re-surfacing to feed once temperatures decrease. Dispersing adult males that have yet to find a territory are nomadic, spending 1 to 3 nights in any particular burrow before moving on to the next. (Barash, 1989; Semenov, et al., 2001a; Semenov, et al., 2001b; Semenov, et al., 2000)

Burrowing activities occur during the summer. When the ground thaws black-capped marmots are able to add on to their extensive underground tunnels and some tunnels have been found to reach 113 m in length (Kapitonov, 1960 cited in Zimina and Gerasimov, 1973). Burrows are the cumulative result of many generations of marmots adding on to existing systems. Each burrow has multiple openings and multiple chambers. Burrow openings are under or near large rocks and 17 to 18 cm in diameter. Three types of burrows, summer, winter, and temporary, can be found throughout the marmot home range, and are maintained during the summer. (Barash, 1989; Mosolov and Tokarsky, 1994; Zimina and Gerasimov, 1973)

Adult marmots have an alert posture, where they sit upright on their haunches and scan their surroundings. Marmots direct antagonist behaviors towards intruders while more amicable behaviors are directed towards relatives. Black-capped marmots use large rocks as look-out posts duriing vigilant behaviors. (Armitage, 2007; Barash, 1989; Mosolov and Tokarsky, 1994)

Black-capped marmots have physiological and behavioral adaptations that enable them to survive in cold environments with permafrost. Compared to other marmots, black-capped marmots have a higher percentage of their body mass consisting of subcutaneous and perivisceral fat. This fat also does not solidify until temperatures reach -3°C to -7°C. Black-capped marmots have the ability to forego moulting on all or part of their body to reduce energy expended growing new fur. Winter burrows, or hibernacula, are constructed in areas that receive deep snow cover during the winter. The hibernaculum is prepared for the winter by insulating the roof and walls. The roof of the burrow is covered with rocks and the walls of the burrow are lined with as much as 9 to 12 kg of grass and other vegetative material to assist with heat retention during winter. (Bibikov, 1994; Filonov, 1961; Semenov, et al., 2001a; Vasil'ev, 2000; Zimina and Gerasimov, 1973)

The last marmot to enter the hibernacula plugs the entrance in such a way that air spaces become trapped in the plug material. This plug consists of plant material, soil, feces, and rocks, and not only provides increased insulation but also provides protection from predators. In addition to saving energy by group hibernating, black-capped marmots have the ability to lower body temperatures to around 0°C during hibernation and hibernate when ambient temperatures are below 0°C (Vasil’ev, 2000 cited in Lee, Barnes, and Buck, 2009). Even during arousal periods, body temperatures do not rise to their usual active body temperature. Marmots also roll into balls and press together while in hibernation. Arousals occur every two to four weeks, in which case the marmots are believed to defecate and urinate. ("Squirrels", 2006; Barash, 1989; Kapitonov, 1978; Lee, et al., 2009; Vasil'ev, 2000)

Hibernation in black-capped marmots usually lasts for 8-9 months of the year from the end of August or mid-September, depending on the environmental conditions and how long food sources are available aboveground, to about the middle of May. Black-capped marmots in captivity did not enter hibernation until November, or 1.5-2 months later then in the wild. In addition to cold temperatures, hibernation also begins as a result of food deprivation and body fat content. From February to March, black-capped marmots were found to have the deepest bouts of torpor. Adult torpor bout length typically decreased in duration in mid-April, or when the marmots were nearing the time to mate. Juveniles have long torpor bouts into May with some bouts stretching for 20 days. ("Squirrels", 2006; Barash, 1989; Bibikov, 1994; Semenov, et al., 2001b; Vinogradov and Argiropulo, 1968)

  • Range territory size
    0.01 to 0.21 km^2
  • Average territory size
    0.13 km^2

Home Range

Home ranges occupied by black-capped marmots vary in size depending on the quality of the site. One study noted that Yakutian marmots occupied ranges that were 10 to 15 ha (0.1 to 0.15 sq km), while another study noted that black-capped marmots occupied ranges that were 1.0 to 2.5 ha (0.01 to 0.025 sq km) in size. Territories include summer and winter burrows as well as foraging areas and other required resources. Kamchatka marmots have an average home range of 13 ha, or 0.13 sq km, (range 1.5 to 21 ha; 0.015 to 0.21 sq km). Marmot family home ranges do not overlap, and small marmot colonies are often formed. (Filonov, 1961; Mosolov and Tokarsky, 1994; Semenov, et al., 2001a)

Communication and Perception

Black-capped marmots use vocalizations such as alarm calls to notify group members of nearby predators. The duration of the main call is 0.2 seconds (Nikol’skii, 1976 cited in Hoffmann, Koeppl, and Nadler, 1979) and has an average frequency of 3000 Hz. Kamchatka marmots have a unique alarm call compared to the other two black-capped marmot subsepcies, Barguzin and Yakutian marmots. Territories may be marked using different olfactory cues, and vocalizations are used to indicate marmot presence on those territories. All marmots have cheek and anal glands which they use to scent mark rocks and vegetation. ("Squirrels", 2006; Barash, 1989; Blumstein and Armitage, 1999; Hoffmann, et al., 1979; Nikolsky, et al., 1991; Nowak, 1999)

Marmots have prominent tails that can be quite bushy. Similar to other marmot species that inhabit mountainous regions, black-capped marmots use their tails in visual communication. (Barash, 1989; Bibikov, 1994)

Food Habits

The short growing season (3 to 4 months) makes it difficult for black-capped marmots to obtain the fat reserves necessary to survive hibernation. There is often little or no food available when the marmots start to emerge from hibernation, which is often why the pregnant female remains in the burrow until she gives birth in June. Black-capped marmots are typically herbivores, consuming grasses, forbs, fruits (berries), seeds (including conifer cones), and shrubs. Early plant growth is preferred over later growth. ("Squirrels", 2006; Barash, 1989; Bibikov, 1994; Nowak, 1999; Semenov, et al., 2001b; Vinogradov and Argiropulo, 1968; Zimina and Gerasimov, 1973)

Roots and bulbs are consumed most towards the end of the summer when the marmots are trying to increase fat stores. As many as 12 different plant species are consumed, and seeds from Siberian dwarf pines (Pinus pumila) are consumed just before the marmots enter hibernation. Some of the specific species consumed by Kamchatka marmots include arctic herbs (Anemone sibirica), granny's bonnets (Aquilegia glandulosa), Doronicum flowers (Doronicum bargusinense), Asian globeflowers (Trollius asiaticus), and cranesbills (Geranium albiflorum). All parts of a plant may be consumed, including the flowers, leaves, stems, and roots. (Barash, 1989; Bibikov, 1994; Boyeskorov, et al., 1994; Filonov, 1961; Zharov, 1976)

In addition to plant materials, most marmot species have been found to eat insects and their larvae, carrion, small rodents located while burrowing, and bird eggs. Black-capped marmots obtain water from mountain streams, their food, and from melting snow or glaciers. ("Squirrels", 2006; Barash, 1989; Mosolov and Tokarsky, 1994)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • flowers

Predation

Besides humans, black-capped marmots have several predators including gray wolves, brown bears, golden eagles, wolverines, and red foxes. Other raptors (hawks, owls) and mid- to large-sized carnivores are also potential predators of black-capped marmots. Since lynxes feed on marmots in North America, Eurasian lynxes may consume these marmots inhabiting Russia. (Barash, 1989; Hoffmann, et al., 1979; Mosolov and Tokarsky, 1994; Steppan, et al., 1999)

Burrows provide a safe refuge from predators in both summer and winter for black-capped marmots. The plugs placed in the entrances to the burrow during hibernation prevent predators from accessing the marmots in the winter. Alarm calls can be used to alert members of predators or to notify the predator that it has been spotted. ("Squirrels", 2006; Barash, 1989; Blumstein and Armitage, 1999; Hoffmann, et al., 1979; Nowak, 1999; Vasil'ev, 2000)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Black-capped marmots significantly alter their environments through foraging and burrowing activities, which in turn alters the vegetation community. Measures of diversity (Shannon-Weaver), equitability, and species richness of vascular plants, bryophytes, and lichens differ significantly between areas with and without marmots. Areas immediately surrounding black-capped marmot burrows (core areas) are predominantly covered by grasses with few bryophytes and cryptograms (algae, lichens, fungi) present. The open tundra and the region surrounding the core area typically have a greater proportion of bryophytes, forbs, and cryptograms compared to the core area. While herbivory itself will alter plant composition, foraging and burrowing may indirectly affect species composition through damaging plant materials. Burrowing disturbs the soil environment, altering decomposition, moisture and nutrient cycles, as well as provides soil aeration. Nutrients, seeds, and soil brought to the surface may promote further plant growth. Marmots will also distribute nutrients throughout their range through urination and defecation. Habitat heterogeneity increases as a result of black-capped marmot activities. ("Squirrels", 2006; Semenov, et al., 2001a)

The black-capped marmot is a host to a particular flea (Oropsylla silantiewi) (Kapitonov, 1960b cited in Hoffmann. Koeppl, and Nadler, 1979). Black-capped marmots are also potential carriers of the plague, which poses a potential risk to people. There are no known cestodes associated with the black-capped marmot. As noted, black-capped marmots provide a source of food for many vertebrate species. ("Squirrels", 2006; Armitage, 2007; Hoffmann, et al., 1979; Mosolov and Tokarsky, 1994)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Because of their fine, soft fur, black-capped marmots are often hunted for their pelts. In addition to supporting the fur industry, it is believed that marmots are hunted for food, though potentially to less of an extent today than in the past. Furthermore, black-capped marmots may provide an important study organism for scientists who are investigating hibernation mechanisms for medical purposes. (Cardini, 2004; Hoffmann, et al., 1979; Steppan, et al., 1999; Tokarsky and Valentsev, 1994; Zimina and Gerasimov, 1973)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The environments inhabited by black-capped marmots are not often close to human populations. Therefore black-capped marmots do not have a significant influence on humans. Black-capped marmots are potential vectors of the plague, so they do pose a small health risk; however, this is minimal to non-existent given their proximity to human populations. Furthermore, marmot groups are often eradicated if their home ranges overlap with human settlements, specifically if the marmots are believed to compete with reindeer for forage. Black-capped marmot colonies may also be destroyed through human activities such as resource extraction. ("Squirrels", 2006; Mosolov and Tokarsky, 1994; Tokarsky and Valentsev, 1994; Zimina and Gerasimov, 1973)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease

Conservation Status

The abundance of this species is not well known since the species is widespread and not found at high densities. Marmot densities may fluctuate from 2 or 3 to 32 marmots per 10 sq km. At least two populations of Yakutian marmots are endangered and have been listed in the Red Book of the Sakha Republic (Revin et al., 1987 cited in Semenov et al., 2001a). Within the Marmot genus, Yakutian marmots are considered one of the most susceptible subspecies to extinction. Barguzin marmots are quite rare and are protected by law. Laws also regulate the hunting of all black-capped marmots. Researchers have noted that black-capped marmot populations are declining and black-capped marmots are no longer found in some of their previous ranges. (Filonov, 1961; Mosolov and Tokarsky, 1994; Semenov, et al., 2001a; Tsytsulina, 2008)

Contributors

Lindsey Bylo (author), University of Manitoba, Jane Waterman (editor), University of Manitoba, Laura Podzikowski (editor), Special Projects.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cooperative breeder

helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

fossorial

Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

granivore

an animal that mainly eats seeds

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

heterothermic

having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

hibernation

the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

holarctic

a distribution that more or less circles the Arctic, so occurring in both the Nearctic and Palearctic biogeographic regions.

World Map

Found in northern North America and northern Europe or Asia.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

polar

the regions of the earth that surround the north and south poles, from the north pole to 60 degrees north and from the south pole to 60 degrees south.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

soil aeration

digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in

tactile

uses touch to communicate

taiga

Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tundra

A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

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