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The Endangered Siberian marmot Marmota sibirica as a keystone species? Observations and implications of burrow use by corsac foxes Vulpes corsac in Mongolia

James D. Murdocha1 c1, Tserendorj Munkhzula2, Suuri Buyandelgera3, Richard P. Readinga4 and Claudio Sillero-Zubiria1

a1 Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Tubney House, Abingdon Road, Tubney, OX13 5QL, UK.

a2 Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Biology–Mammalogy Laboratory, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

a3 National University of Mongolia, Department of Biology, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

a4 Denver Zoological Foundation, Department of Conservation Biology, Denver, USA.

Abstract

The Siberian marmot Marmota sibirica is a social, colonial-living rodent that ranges widely throughout northern Asia. In Mongolia the species has declined substantially in recent years due to overharvesting for fur, meat and body parts, used locally and traded illegally in international markets. The Siberian marmot is often considered a keystone species because its burrows appear to represent an important resource for a variety of taxa, including carnivores. However, few studies have quantified marmot burrow use by other species, although such use may be important for developing conservation strategies. We monitored patterns of burrow use by 10 radio-collared corsac foxes Vulpes corsac during a study in Mongolia during May–November 2006. Corsacs used marmot burrows regularly and at rates greater than expected by chance, suggesting that burrows represent an important resource for foxes and supporting the notion of the Siberian marmot as a keystone species. As corsacs are also declining in Mongolia we contend that targeted patrols of marmot colonies in certain areas would provide a cost-effective means of protecting both species.

(Received July 06 2008)

(Reviewed August 14 2008)

(Accepted October 02 2008)

Correspondence:

c1 Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Tubney House, Abingdon Road, Tubney, OX13 5QL, UK. E-mail jd_murdoch@yahoo.com

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