Overview

Brief Summary

The Alpine Marmot (Marmota marmota) is a species of marmot found in mountainous areas of central and southern Europe. Alpine marmots live at heights between 800 and 3,200 metres in the Alps,CarpathiansTatras, the Pyrenees and Northern Apennines in Italy. They were reintroduced with success in the Pyrenees in 1948, where the alpine marmot had disappeared at end of the Pleistoceneepoch. They are excellent diggers, able to penetrate soil that even a pickaxe would have difficulty with, and spend up to nine months per year in hibernation.

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Distribution

Range Description

The Alpine marmot is endemic to Europe. Its core range extends through the Alps of France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. Isolated subpopulations are found in the Pyrenees, Massif Central, Jura, Vosges, Black Forest, Appenines, High Tatras, and Romanian Carpathians. A number of these isolated subpopulations (those in the Pyrenees, Massif Central, Jura, Vosges, Black Forest, and Appennines, and eastern Alps) are the result of introductions. The marmot has inhabited the Alps and High Tatras continuously since the end of the last Ice Age, and was reintroduced to the Romanian Carpathians (three attempts in 1973, the third attempt was successful) and Slovenia (in 1953). It occurs as two subspecies: M. m. marmota in the Alps (and most introduced subpopulations) and M. m. latirostris in the High Tatras. A hybrid population exists in the Low Tatras, the result of introductions of both subspecies. Likewise populations in the Appenines are hybrids of both subspecies. It occurs at altitudes of 600-3,200 m (Preleuthner 1999).
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Geographic Range

Lives 400-500m above the forest line in the Central and Western Alpine mountains of Europe.

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

The fur color of alpine marmots is a mixture of blonde to reddish to dark gray. Their bodies are plump and sturdy and stand at a height of 18cm. Body mass changes drastically from season to season. Before hibernation in the fall, the average weight of males is 4540g and that of females is 4355g. In the springtime, the average weight of males is 3000g and females is 2900g. Specialized for digging, the thumb of an alpine marmot has a nail on it while all other digits have claws. (Nowak 1991, Parker 1990)

Average mass: 3500 g.

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It inhabits alpine meadows and high-altitude pastures, typically on south-facing slopes from 1,200-3,000 m (although it is occasionally found at lower altitudes). Colonies inhabit deep burrow systems in alluvial soil or rocky areas (Preleuthner 1999). It has a herbivorous diet, primarily composed of green parts of grasses, sedges, and herbs (Krapp 1978).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Alpine marmots are adapted to cold climates. They are able to live in places where there is little vegetation. They are able to burrow in gravelly and frozen ground. (Nowak 1991)

Terrestrial Biomes: mountains

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they are found in america,asia and euope in the mountain areas of the pyrennes,alps,himalayas and rocky mountains.

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Alpine marmots are herbivorous, eating mostly leaves and blossoms. Because they don't spend much time chewing, M. marmota prefers softer stalks in order to ease digestion. Like many rodents, alpine marmots are able to eat plants that would poison other mammals. (Nowak 1991)

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Life History and Behavior

Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
18.0 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
15.0 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 17.4 years (captivity) Observations: In the wild these animals live up to 13-15 years (Ronald Nowak 1999). One wild born specimen was still alive at about 17.4 years of age (Richard Weigl 2005). There are also anecdotal reports of animals living over 18 years.
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Reproduction

Marmota marmota mates within the first few days after emergence from hibernation, which occurs in May. Reproducing is not necessarily annual and depends on the weight of the dominant female of a group (as she is the only female to reproduce) after hibernation. Gestation takes approximately 33-34 days. Litters range in number of young from one to seven, each weighing in around 29g at birth. Hair begins to grow after 5 days and eyes open around the 23rd day. After birth, the young are hidden in burrows by their mother and do not exit until they are weaned (around 40 days old). Young become sexually mature around 2 years of age. The life span of an alpine marmot is expected to be between 15 and 18 years.

(Arnold 1985, Nowak 1991)

Average birth mass: 30 g.

Average gestation period: 35 days.

Average number of offspring: 4.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)

Sex: male:
730 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)

Sex: female:
730 days.

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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Herrero, J., Zima, J. & Coroiu, I.

Reviewer/s
Amori, G. (Small Nonvolant Mammal Red List Authority) & Temple, H. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)

Contributor/s

Justification
The species is not threatened at present. Subspecies marmota is common within at least parts of its range and has no major threats. However, subspecies latirostris has a restricted range and small population, and should be monitored and protected.
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Marmota marmota could potentially become endangered due to massive hunting. In Austria and Switzerland alone, 6,000 alpine marmots are killed annually as trophies.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Population

Population
M. m. marmota is abundant in at least parts of its core range in the Alps, although some subpopulations may be under threat (e.g. in the Jura and in Germany). Reported population densities for M. m. marmota range from 24-36 individuals per 100 hectares (Gran Paradiso, Italy) to 40-80 individuals per 100 hectares (Tessin, Switzerland). In Romanian Carpathians, the population is estimated at 1,500 individuals. It is known from three areas in Romania: Retezat, Fagaras and Rodna. In Retezat and Fagaras the populations are stable; in Rodna the population is very small and is threatened by poaching (Popescu and Murariu 2001, Botnariuc and Tatole 2005). The population is Slovenia is expanding (B. Krystufek pers. comm. 2007). Subspecies M. m. latirostris has a restricted range (it occurs at higher elevations in a small region of the High Tatras) and is considered to be rare and threatened (Preleuthner 1999).

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
Marmots were previously hunted for meat, fur, and fat (which was used for cosmetics and medicines). Hunting continues today, but is primarily a leisure activity (Preleuthner 1999). In Slovenia and Austria, hunting levels are sustainable, but in Austria at least populations living below the timberline are threatened by loss of open habitats through abandonment of high-altitude cattle grazing (Spitzenberger 2002, B. Kryštufek pers. comm. 2006). Hybridisation with introduced M. m. marmota is a potential future threat to remaining pure-bred populations of M. m. latirostris in the High Tatras.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
The species occurs in a number of national parks within its range. It is listed under Appendix III of the Bern Convention, and is protected under national law in a number of range states (e.g., Slovenia). Subspecies latirostris requires strict protection in Slovakia and Poland.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In Germany, alpine marmots are considered a delicacy. Residents of the Alps like to use the orange-yellow marmot teeth to decorate belts.

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Wikipedia

Alpine marmot

The Alpine Marmot (Marmota marmota) is a species of marmot found in mountainous areas of central and southern Europe. Alpine marmots live at heights between 800 and 3,200 metres in the Alps, Carpathians, Tatras, the Pyrenees and Northern Apennines in Italy. They were reintroduced with success in the Pyrenees in 1948, where the alpine marmot had disappeared at end of the Pleistocene epoch.[2] They are excellent diggers, able to penetrate soil that even a pickaxe would have difficulty with, and spend up to nine months per year in hibernation.[3]

Description[edit]

An adult alpine marmot may stand at 18 cm (7.1 in) at the shoulder. They reach between 42 and 54 cm (17 and 21 in) in length, not including the tail, which measures between 13 to 16 cm (5.1 to 6.3 in) on average. The body mass is significantly lighter in spring, when these animals weigh 2.8 to 3.3 kg (6.2 to 7.3 lb), than in fall, when they weigh 5.5 to 8 kg (12 to 18 lb).[4] The alpine marmot is sometimes considered the largest squirrel species, although the closely related hoary marmot is sometimes heavier.[5] Its coat is a mixture of blonde, reddish and dark gray fur. While most of the alpine marmot's fingers have claws, its thumbs have nails.

Range and ecology[edit]

As its name suggests, the alpine marmot ranges throughout the European Alps, ranging through France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Slovenia and Austria. They have also been introduced elsewhere with sub-populations in the Pyrenees, Massif Central, Jura, Vosges, Black Forest, Apennine Mountains, High Tatras, and Romanian Carpathians. Marmots are abundant in their core population; in the Romanian Carpathians, for example, the population is estimated at 1,500 individuals.[1] Alpine marmots prefer alpine meadows and high-altitude pastures and colonies, where they live in deep burrow systems situated in alluvial soil or rocky areas.[6]

Marmots may be seen "sun bathing", but actually this is often on a flat rock and it is believed they are actually cooling and possibly this is a strategy to deal with parasites. Marmots are temperature sensitive and an increase in temperature can cause habitat loss for the species as a whole.[7]

Diet[edit]

Alpine marmots eat plants such as grasses and herbs, as well as grain, insects, spiders and worms. They prefer young and tender plants over any other kind, and hold food in their forepaws while eating. They mainly emerge from their burrows to engage in feeding during the morning and afternoon, as they are not well suited to heat, which may result in them not feeding at all on very warm days. When the weather is suitable, they will consume large amounts of food in order to create a layer of fat on their body, enabling them to survive their long hibernation period.[3]

Lifestyle[edit]

Skeleton

When creating a burrow, they use both their forepaws and hind feet to assist in the work—the forepaws scrape away the soil, which is then pushed out of the way by the hind feet. If there are any stones in the way, the alpine marmot will remove them with its teeth provided that the stones aren't too large. "Living areas" are created at the end of a burrow, and are often lined with dried hay, grass and plant stems. Any other burrow tunnels that go nowhere are used as toilet areas. Once burrows have been completed, they only host one family, but are often enlarged by the next generation, sometimes creating very complex burrows over time. Each alpine marmot will live in a group that consists of several burrows, and which has a dominant breeding pair. Alpine marmots are very defensive against intruders, and will warn them off using intimidating behavior, such as beating of the tail and chattering of the teeth, and by marking their territory with their scent. One can often see an alpine marmot "standing" while they keep a look-out for potential predators or other dangers. Warnings are given, by emitting a series of loud whistles, after which members of the colony may be seen running for cover.

An alpine marmot at the end of summer. Note the fattened belly.

The mating season for alpine marmots occurs in the spring, right after their hibernation period comes to a close, which gives their offspring the highest possible chance of storing enough fat to survive the coming winter. Alpine marmots are able to breed once they reach an age of two years. Dominant females tend to suppress reproduction of subordinates by being antagonistic towards them while they are pregnant which causes stress and kills the young.[8] Once the female is pregnant, she will take bedding materials (such as grass) into the burrow for when she gives birth after a gestation period of 33–34 days. Each litter consists of between one to seven babies, though this number is usually three. The babies are born blind and will grow dark fur within several days. The weaning period takes a further forty days, during which time the mother will leave the young in the burrow while she searches for food. After this period, the offspring will come out of the burrow and search for solid food themselves. Their fur becomes the same colour as other alpine marmots by the end of the summer, and after two years they will have reached their full size. If kept in captivity, alpine marmots can live up to 15–18 years.[3]

Introduced alpine marmots in the Pyrenees

Hibernation[edit]

As the summer begins to end, alpine marmots will gather old stems in their burrows in order to serve as bedding for their impending hibernation, which can start as early as October. They seal the burrow with a combination of earth and their own faeces. Once winter arrives, alpine marmots will huddle next to each other and begin hibernation, a process which lowers their heart rate to five beats per minute and breathing to 1–3 breaths per minute, which uses up their stored fat supplies slowly, and usually allows them to survive the winter. Body temperature will drop to almost the same as the air around them, although heart rate and breathing will speed up if the environment approaches freezing point. Some alpine marmots will starve to death due to their layer of fat running out; this is most likely to happen in younger alpine marmots.[3]

Interaction with humans[edit]

Rendered marmot fat

Alpine marmots used to be widely hunted due to the belief that their fat would ease rheumatism when rubbed on the skin. Hunting of the alpine marmot still occurs for sport. This is a danger to the species, as they are relatively slow at breeding.[3] In general the alpine marmot is currently not in any danger of extinction, but certain sub-populations of marmot may be threatened such as those in the Jura and in Germany.[1] There is a population in Rodna that is very small and threatened by poaching.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Herrero, J., Zima, J. & Coroiu, I. (2008). Marmota marmota. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 6 January 2009.
  2. ^ J. Herrero, J. Canut, D. Garcia-Ferre, R. Garcia Gonzalez & R. Hidalgo (1992). "The alpine marmot (Marmota marmota L.) in the Spanish Pyrenees" (PDF). Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde 57 (4): 211–215. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Wildlife Fact File. IMP Publishing Ltd. 1994. Group 1, Card 146. OCLC 671298004. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ Preleuthner, M. 1999. Marmota marmota. In: A.J. Mitchell-Jones, G. Amori, W. Bogdanowicz, B. Kryštufek, P. J. H. Reijnders, F. Spitzenberger, M. Stubbe, J. B. M. Thissen, V. Vohralík, and J. Zima (eds), The Atlas of European Mammals, Academic Press, London, UK.
  7. ^ Prof. Klaus Hackländer, Biologisches Zentrum des OÖ Landesmuseums, 1999: Murmeltiere. Katalog des OÖ Landesmuseums, Neue Folge 146. 205 S.
  8. ^ Klaus Hackländera, Erich Möstlb and Walter Arnold. (2003) "Reproductive suppression in female Alpine marmots, Marmota marmota" Animal Behaviour 65(6):1133-1140.
  9. ^ Popescu, A. and Murariu, D. 2001. Fauna Romaniei. Academia Romana.
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