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


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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

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Description

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. (Updated 2017/05/25)

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Distribution and Population

The Vancouver Island marmot is endemic to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver Island marmots apparently suffered a severe range contraction over the last several decades, although records are insufficient to elucidate when or why this occurred. Annual population surveys since 1979 indicate that marmot numbers at least doubled during the 1980s, with most of this increase occurring in new habitats created by logging of old-growth forests. A minimum of 235 marmots were counted in 1984, but it is likely that the population numbered 300-350 at this time, with most of it in man-made habitats. The population declined precipitously during the 1990s, with only ~70 individuals remaining in the wild by 1997. In 2007 there were about 50 wild-born marmots in the wild, plus a few dozen released marmots (not included in this assessment) and over 100 captive marmots, which are also not included in this assessment. (Updated 2017/05/25)

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Habitat

The natural habitat of Vancouver Island marmots consists of sub-alpine meadows, usually at 900-1500 metres above sea level. Such meadows are believed to have been created and maintained by avalanches, snow-creep or fire, or a combination of processes. Patches of natural habitat on Vancouver Island tend to be both smaller and located father apart than those occupied by marmots in the B.C. mainland or the Olympic peninsula. Vancouver Island marmots also use man-made habitats. Numerous colonization events occurred in habitats created by clearcut logging of high elevation forests, mining, and ski-run developments. (Updated 2017/05/25)

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Biology

M. vancouverensis is fossorial, herbivorous and hibernates, generally from early October through late April. Females may breed at age two, but most do not breed until age 3 or 4, producing litters of 3-4 pups every two years on average. Both sexes disperse, typically at age two. The maximum observed age is 10 years in the wild, 14 years in captivity. (Updated 2017/05/25)

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Threats

The natural habitat of Vancouver Island marmots is limited. Sub-alpine meadows are small (1-10 ha) and occur infrequently in the otherwise forested landscape. Recent pollen analysis suggests that marmot habitats were much more extensive several thousand years ago. Palaeontological and archaeological records of marmots are found well outside of their historical extent of occurrence. Habitat created by logging is only temporary as forest regeneration makes conditions unsuitable for marmots. All 10 colonies found in clearcuts during the 1980s and 1990s became extinct by 2000. The median colony longevity in clearcuts was 10 years (range = 5-19 years), which is about 2-3 marmot generations. The major current threat to Vancouver Island marmots is predation. At least 80% of marmot mortality since 1992 was attributable to predation, largely by wolves (Canis lupis), cougars (Puma concolor) and golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos). Annual survival rates have declined since the 1980s, losses at individual colonies were often dramatic within single years, and colony-specific survival rates were spatially correlated. Given the small size of the current wild population, other threats include loss of genetic variation, stochastic demographic or weather effects, and inability to find a mate. (Updated 2017/05/25)

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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.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

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

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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

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Recovery Team

Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Team

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

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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 31, 2017