More research! The Marmot Recovery Foundation is collaborating with Dr Jamie Gorrell of Vancouver Island University to map the genetics of as much of the captive and wild population as we can get samples from. When complete, this research will help us make more informed choices about which marmots to pair in the captive breeding program and where to release marmots.
When our recovery effort began, the marmot population was frightening small. At its lowest point, fewer than 30 remained in the wild. With that severe population bottleneck in mind, the captive breeding program’s first priority has been to conserve genetic diversity and minimize inbreeding. But to do that, we have had to make assumptions. For instance, we assume that marmots from distant colonies are not closely related. In the wild, we assume that the male marmot that hibernates with the mother and engages in parenting duties is the father of the pups.
Dr Gorrell’s work will enable us to have a much closer look at the genetics of the marmots, and test whether our assumptions have always been right. If there are areas of concern, for instance a colony where all the marmots are more closely related than we believed (we’re looking you Alan, we know you get around, but just how much getting around have you been up to?), we can take corrective action. For instance, we could release marmots to the site, or even translocate marmots, to give a fresh infusion of needed genes.
We are really excited about Dr Gorrell’s work, and his results will help us better understand the marmots needs.