Alarm Calls of Unpopular Loner Marmots Alert & Save Entire Colonies

The following item was reported by Nicholas Weiler in a Science Shot article published online on January 23, 2015 in Science. “A peaceful community of yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris) should be grateful for its outcasts. When they notice a slinking coyote or circling hawk, loners are most likely to sound the alarm and alert the colony, according to a new study of marmot social networks. Each summer since 2002, researchers have tracked the alarm calls and social behavior of tagged marmots from six colonies near the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Colorado. They jotted down each friendly encounter—nose rubs, cuddles, and playful tussles—to reconstruct, the social network linking 142 of the cat-sized mountain squirrels. The researchers, [from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory], rated each marmot for qualities such as social influence and vulnerability based on the number and strength of its relationships. They suspected that the most socially adept animals would be first to alert their cliques to danger, but in fact, unpopular marmots whistled alarm calls most frequently, the team reports [online on January 15, 2015] in Behavioral Ecology. Socially vulnerable marmots may call out predators because they can’t rely on strong social networks for protection, the researchers speculate. But standing guard could also be a way to gain access to the in-crowd." The photo is credited to Ben Hulsey. [Science Shot article by Nicholas Weiler] [Behavioral Ecology abstract]
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