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Climate change causes larger, more plentiful marmots, study shows
Date:7/21/2010

ndon, and Dan Blumstein, a co-author from the University of California-Los Angeles, previously have worked with Armitage on the marmot project.

Using data collected between 1976 and 2008, the authors conclude that a longer growing season has boosted marmots' individual size, overall strength and general population. The average weight of fully grown marmots jumped from 6.82 pounds in the early years of the study to 7.56 pounds in the later half of the study.

Additionally, the population growth of marmots increased from 0.56 marmots per year from 1976 to 2001 to 14.2 marmots per year from 2001 to 2008.

"The warming results in earlier snowmelt, which means that plants appear sooner and the marmots come out of hibernation earlier," said Armitage. "They have more fat left which provides them energy to start foraging. Then they can start reproducing so their young are born earlier and have time to get fat enough to survive hibernation. Most importantly, the reproductive female can survive better. Being able to wean her young earlier, she has a longer season and survival of adult females has increased over the last years."

Although Armitage is happy to see the yellow-bellied marmot thrive, the KU researcher cautioned that the boom in marmots is temporary; he expects that warming could harm them in the long run because of changes in snow patterns.

"This benefit to marmots is probably short-lived," he said. "Snow patterns both benefit and harm marmots. Prolonged snow cover in the spring increases mortality and reduces reproduction. But if there's less snowmelt to nourish plants that marmots forage in the summer, it will severely affect them. In droughts, we've had very high mortality."


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Contact: Brendan Lynch
blynch@ku.edu
785-864-8855
University of Kansas
Source:Eurekalert  

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