Species Profile

Vancouver Island Marmot

Scientific Name: Marmota vancouverensis
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
Range: British Columbia
Last COSEWIC Assessment: April 2008
Last COSEWIC Designation: Endangered
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered


Go to advanced search

Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Vancouver Island Marmot

Vancouver Island Marmot Photo 1

Top

Description

The Vancouver Island Marmot is a colonial rodent that lives in burrows. Similar in appearance to a woodchuck, this species typically measures 67 to 72 cm from the nose to the tip of the tail. It has chocolate brown fur with contrasting patches of white fur on the nose, belly and top of the head. Moulting occurs once a year, in July, and the new fur is particularly dark (almost black in young of the year). Older fur weathers to tan or cinnamon colour. Because marmots may not fully complete moulting in a given year, older animals often display a variegated fur pattern. Apart from its dark fur, the species can be distinguished from other marmots by, among other things, its unique vocalizations and highly sociable nature.

Top

Distribution and Population

As its name indicates, this marmot occurs only on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Before reintroductions began in 2003, Vancouver Island Marmots were present on only five mountains in the Nanaimo Lakes region of central Vancouver Island and on Mount Washington, approximately 95 km to the northwest. The species is currently known from 10 locations. Annual population surveys since 1979 indicate that the number of Vancouver Island Marmots at least doubled during the 1980s, with most of this increase occurring in new habitats created by the logging of old-growth forests. A minimum of 235 Vancouver Island Marmots were counted in 1984, but the population decreased precipitously in the 1990s, and there were only about 70 individuals remaining in the wild by 1997. In 2007, there were approximately 30 wild-born Vancouver Island Marmots in the wild plus a few dozen captive-bred marmots that had been released into the wild.

Top

Habitat

Vancouver Island Marmots inhabit subalpine meadows usually between 900 and 1500 m above sea level. Such meadows are believed to have been created and maintained by avalanches, snow-creep or fire, or a combination of these processes. Vancouver Island Marmots require three essential habitat features: soil structure suitable for the construction of burrows, suitable grass-forb vegetation for food, and microclimate conditions that permit summer foraging and winter hibernation. Patches of natural habitat on Vancouver Island tend to be smaller than those occupied by marmots in the British Columbia mainland or the Olympic Peninsula and are also located father apart. Vancouver Island Marmots will also use habitats created by people. Habitats created by clear-cut logging of high-elevation forests, by mining, and by ski-run developments have all been colonized.

Top

Biology

Like most alpine-dwelling marmots, Vancouver Island Marmots are relatively long-lived and reproduce infrequently. Females may become sexually mature at two years, but most do not breed until they reach three or four years of age. Mating generally occurs one month after emergence from hibernation. The gestation period is one month. The average litter size is three or four young, which typically emerge in July. At the age of two years, Vancouver Island Marmots disperse to other colonies in adjacent mountains or attempt to establish new colonies. These animals construct burrows where they hibernate, give birth, hide from predators, and take shelter. Burrows are commonly reused over multiple years by the same individuals and social groups. Escape burrows to avoid predators include shallow excavations under a rock or tree root system. Burrows used overnight or as birthing chambers are more elaborate, often with multiple entrances. The species generally hibernates from early October through late April. In the spring, the diet of this herbivore consists primarily of grasses and forbs; in late summer it consists of broad-leaved plants. The maximum observed age is 10 years in the wild and 14 years in captivity.

Top

Threats

The Vancouver Island Marmot has been restricted to small areas of subalpine meadows for thousands of years. Although most of its natural habitats are still available, it appears that dispersing Vancouver Island Marmots do not use them, but instead colonize clear-cut habitats that are closer. Temporary growth of the population has been observed in some clear-cut sectors, but within 15 years the forest has regenerated and these habitats become unsuitable. During their lifespan, the females inhabiting these cut sectors produce significantly fewer offspring than females that live in natural subalpine habitats. Logging has resulted in the concentration of the Vancouver Island Marmot within a very restricted area. The major immediate threat to the Vancouver Island Marmot is predation, which is also believed to be the proximate cause of recent population declines. At least 80% of mortality since 1992 is attributable to predation, largely by wolves, cougars and golden eagles. Indices of cougar and wolf abundance on Vancouver Island have increased dramatically since the early 1980s. The small size of the current wild population means that it is subject to other threats, including inbreeding, which can depress reproductive or survival rates and the ability to find a mate. Climate change might influence the timing of hibernation, and the survival of hibernating Vancouver Island Marmots might be influenced by snow conditions. The vulnerability of Vancouver Island Marmots to predation might increase if they remain active later in the fall or emerge earlier in the spring.

Top

Protection

Federal Protection

The Vancouver Island Marmot is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The Vancouver Island Marmot is protected under the British Columbia Wildlife Act, which prohibits killing, capturing or harassing Vancouver Island Marmots, engaging in trade in this species, or destroying its habitat. Two areas inhabited by the Vancouver Island Marmot are protected: the Haley Lake Ecological Reserve (under the British Columbia Ecological Reserve Act) and the Green Mountain Wildlife Management Area (under the British Columbia Wildlife Act).

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

Top

Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name National Recovery Plan for the Vancouver Island Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis)
Status RENEW Publication

Name Recovery Strategy for the Vancouver Island Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) in British Columbia
Status Submitted for peer review/ review by F/P/T partners

Top

Recovery Team

Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Team

  • Don Doyle - Chair/Contact - Government of BC
    Phone: 250-751-3219  Fax: 250-751-3208  Send Email

Top

Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date Research and monitoring activities over the last 15 years have led to a solid understanding of the ecology, distribution, and limiting factors for the Vancouver Island Marmot in the wild. In the summer of 2004, the number of marmots in captivity and the wild topped 120, with the birth of 26 pups in all four breeding facilities. However, the Vancouver Island Marmot remains one of the most endangered species in Canada, with only 30 individuals existing in the wild. The Marmot Recovery Foundation, a public registered charity established in 1998, continues to make progress in fund-raising and enhancing public awareness, and as a result public support for Vancouver Island Marmot recovery is increasing. Summary of Research/Monitoring Activities Ongoing population monitoring studies, which began in the early 1990s, have led to a good understanding of population sizes and trends for the Vancouver Island Marmot. Results from more than 10-years of radio-telemetry studies indicate that the long-term survival of marmots is reduced in clear-cut areas, and that predation is an important mortality factor. Furthermore, a metapopulation study indicated that marmots do not colonize clear-cuts in proportion to their availability, but rather the clear-cuts act as a trap by diverting marmots to then settle nearby clear-cut areas instead of dispersing to their natural habitat. Other research has focused on collecting blood and fecal matter to test for Yersina and other potential pathogens that may be significantly contributing to Vancouver Island Marmot mortality. Reintroduction and captive-breeding methods, critical to the recovery of the Vancouver Island Marmot, continue to be developed and improved. A habitat suitability study, conducted in 1995, evaluated eight potential release sites and found that while all eight sites met the minimum criteria for the Vancouver Island Marmot, only one site rated as having “high potential”. Summary of Recovery Activities Captive breeding is currently underway at four facilities including the Toronto and Calgary zoos, a private breeding centre in Langley, British Columbia, and the Mount Washington breeding facility on Vancouver Island. The first reintroduction into natural sub-alpine habitat was unsuccessful: three of the four released animals were killed by predators, and the fourth was taken back into captivity. In the summer of 2004, nine more captive-bred animals were released: one was killed by a golden eagle, but the other eight survived and are currently in hibernation. To help ensure the survival of the reintroduced marmots, experimental non-lethal methods of preventing predator attacks, including the use of human shepherds, fencing and netting, have also been introduced. The core area of Vancouver Island Marmot habitat has been successfully protected within the Green-Haley reserve. http://www.marmots.org/

Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

8 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Vancouver Island Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) in Canada (2008)

    The Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) is a colonial ground squirrel related to the hoary marmot M. caligata and Olympic marmot M. Olympus. It is notable for its chocolate brown fur, unique vocalizations, atypical skull characteristics, and highly social nature.
  • COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Vancouver Island marmot Marmota vancouverensis in Canada (2000)

    The Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis), like other members of the genus, is fossorial, herbivorous and hibernates during winter. M. vancouverensis differs from other species in karyotype, skull characteristics, pelage and behaviour. It is similar to other alpine-dwelling marmots in its slow maturation, long life span, and complex social organization. M. vancouverensis persists despite a small and fragmented natural habitat base. It exhibits a "metapopulation" structure. The entire population consists of small colonies that occasionally form and become extinct.

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment - Vancouver Island Marmot (2000)

    Designated Endangered in April 1978. Status re-examined and confirmed Endangered in April 1997 and in May 2000. May 2000 assessment based on new quantitative criteria applied to information from the existing 1997 status report with an addendum.
  • COSEWIC Assessment - Vancouver Island Marmot (2008)

    Designated Endangered in April 1978. Status re–examined and confirmed Endangered in April 1997, May 2000, and April 2008. Last assessment based on an update status report.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Vancouver Island Marmot (2008)

    Fewer than 30 mature wild-born individuals of this Canadian endemic remain in the wild. Despite the apparent initial success of reintroductions, the wild population of this species remains extremely small and could be subject to stochastic events.  Ongoing predation remains high and there are potential threats from inbreeding and climate change.

Orders

  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (2012)

    The purpose of the Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act is to add 18 species to Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk (the List), and to reclassify 7 listed species, pursuant to subsection 27(1) of SARA. This amendment is made on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and on consultations with governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the Canadian public.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2007 - 2008 (2008)

    2008 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update March 17, 2017