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Anti-Predator Behavior of Vancouver Island Marmots: Using Congeners to Evaluate Abilities of a Critically Endangered Mammal

Authors

  • Daniel T. Blumstein,

    1. Department of Systematics and Ecology, University of Kansas, Lawrence; Departments of Biology and Psychology, Macquarie University, Sydney; Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Project, Nanaimo
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  • Janice C. Daniel,

    1. Department of Systematics and Ecology, University of Kansas, Lawrence; Departments of Biology and Psychology, Macquarie University, Sydney; Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Project, Nanaimo
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  • Andrew A. Bryant

    1. Department of Systematics and Ecology, University of Kansas, Lawrence; Departments of Biology and Psychology, Macquarie University, Sydney; Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Project, Nanaimo
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D. T. Blumstein, Department of Organismic Biology, Ecology and Evolution, 621 Charles E. Young Drive South, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1606, USA. E-mail: marmots@ucla.edu

Abstract

Behavioral comparisons between endangered species and their congeners may provide valuable data with which to test ideas about declining populations or the future direction of recovery efforts. We considered the case of the highly endangered Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis). Predation is a current source of mortality, and inadequate anti-predator behavior could have profound ramifications for the future success of re-introductions. We tested whether M. vancouverensis anti-predator behavior was unusual or ‘deficient’ by quantifying it and comparing it to 13 other marmot species. We found no evidence that Vancouver Island marmots were unwary. If anything, the converse was true. Vancouver Island marmots were responsive and vigilant towards real and simulated predatory threats. They dug numerous escape burrows that reduced the likelihood of predation. Our results have several implications for future recovery efforts, one of which was to establish ‘baseline’ flight-response targets that captive-bred Vancouver Island marmots will have to meet or exceed prior to release into predator-rich environments.

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