Scientists studying marmots in the high meadows of the North Cascades are concerned about their decline
Logan Whiles is a graduate research assistant at Washington State University studying predator-prey interactions, and Rawley Davis is his summer field technician. The three of us are about to spend a week in Washington’s North Cascades National Park observing hoary marmots, collecting carnivore scat, and checking on wildlife cameras. This will be Logan Whiles’s fifth time making the roughly sixty-mile trek.
There is evidence that hoary marmots are in serious decline in the North Cascades National Park. One hypothesis for the loss suggests that less snow due to a warming climate opens the restaurant doors for carnivores that otherwise dine at lower elevations (such as coyotes and bobcats). If more marmots are being eaten by these lower elevation animals, then the rare higher elevation carnivores like wolverines and lynx could be forced into competition. This in turn could throw already stressed habitats further out of sync.
Scientists are still determining to what extent human or carnivore activity in the North Cascades affects hoary marmot behavior. They want to know which carnivores up here are eating marmots. Whiles and his team theorized maybe bear (grizzlies are known to dig marmots out of their burrows), but there are currently no grizzlies here, and last season the team collected enough scat to realize that local black bears chomp more veg than they do meat.
Data compiled from this research is giving us a clearer picture of climate change impacts on sensitive mountain habitats across Cascadia.