• Marginal habitats provide unexpected survival benefits to the Alpine marmot

      Ferrari, Caterina; Zanet, Stefania; Rolando, Antonio; Bertolino, Sandro; Bassano, Bruno; von Hardenberg, Achaz; University of Turin; Gran Paradiso National Park; University of Chester
      Age-specific survival trajectories can vary significantly among wild populations. Identifying the environmental conditions associated with such variability is of primary importance to understand the dynamics of free-ranging populations. In this study, we investigated survival variations among alpine marmot (Marmota marmota) families living in areas with opposite environmental characteristics: the typical habitat of the species (alpine meadow) and a marginal area bordering the forest. We used data collected during an 11-year study in the Gran Paradiso National Park (Italy) and performed a Bayesian survival trajectory analysis on marked individuals. Furthermore, we investigated, at a territorial level, the relationships among demographic parameters and habitat variables by using a path analysis approach. Contrary to our expectations, for most of the marmot’s lifespan, survival rate was higher in the marginal site closer to the forest and with lower visibility than in the alpine meadow site. Path analysis indicated that the number of families living close to each other negatively affected the stability of the dominant couple, which in turn affected both juvenile survival and reproduction. Given the lower number of neighbouring families which inhabited the marginal site and the potentially different predation pressure by the most effective predator in the area (Aquila chrysaetos), our results suggest that species adapted to live in open habitats may benefit from living in a marginal habitat. This study highlights the importance of habitats bordering the forest in the conservation of alpine marmots.