Marmot distribution and habitat associations in the Great Basin

Chris H. Floyd


In this study I describe the distribution and habitat associations of yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris) in the Great Basin, compare my findings with those of E.R. Hall during his 1929-1936 survey and later surveys, and discuss potential reasons for changes in marmot distribution over time. I found 62 marmot burrow sites in 18 mountain ranges, mostly in rocky meadows situated on well-drained slopes between 2100 m and 3000 m elevation. Marmots were generally found near burrows dug within talus slopes, talus-like rock piles, or clusters of massive boulders. Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor) was the shrub most commonly associated with occupied rock formations. Marmots were most abundant in the Ruby/East Humboldt Range and were common in the Desatoya, Shoshone, Toiyabe, Toquima, Cherry Creek, Schell Creek, Deep Creek, and Stansbury Ranges. Marmots appeared to be uncommon in the Monitor Range and rare in the Clan Alpine, Roberts, and Snake Ranges. I was unable to find marmots in the Diamond, Egan, Spruce-Pequop, White Pine, and Oquirrh Ranges, although I located old, weathered marmot scats in all but the latter 2 ranges. Other evidence confirms that marmots do actually occur in the Oquirrh Range, but extensive searches of the White Pine Range, including some of the same rock formations where E.R. Hall collected marmots, revealed no sign of marmots. My distribution data suggest that marmots may have gone extinct in some Great Basin mountain ranges during the last century. These disappearances may represent a natural extinction-recolonization dynamic, but a more alarming possibility is a recent die-off linked to climate change, which is predicted to force montane vegetation zones further upslope, shrinking the habitat of associated faunas. However, marmots in this study were observed as low as 1550 m elevation, indicating an altitudinal flexibility that may allow this species to survive climatic change better than more specialized boreal species such as pikas (Ochotona princeps) and water shrews (Sorex palustris).


Marmota flaviventris, marmot, Great Basin, climatic change, boreal mammals, talus, Holodiscus discolor

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