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Historical surveys reveal a long-term decline in muskrat populations
  • Carrie Sadowski,
  • Jeff Bowman
Carrie Sadowski
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
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Jeff Bowman
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
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Abstract

The muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) is an iconic species in Canada, valued for both its fur and its integral role in wetland ecosystems, and widely regarded for its perseverance. However, the resilience of this semi-aquatic mammal seems to be in question now as increasing evidence points to widespread population declines. Recent analyses of harvest data across North America suggest a reduction in their numbers, but this has not been widely corroborated by population surveys. In this study we replicated historic muskrat house count surveys at two large Great Lakes coastal wetlands and present confirmation that declines in muskrat harvest correspond to actual declines in muskrat abundance. At the Point Pelee National Park marsh and the Matchedash Bay-Gray Marsh wetland we found that mean muskrat house counts declined by 93% and 91% respectively between historic surveys 40-50 years ago and contemporary surveys over the past five years. The factors responsible for these dramatic declines remain unclear but there may be a relationship with changes in the habitat quality of these wetlands that have occurred over the same time frame. Not only is the loss of muskrats an issue for the resulting loss of the wetland ecosystem services they provide, but it may be an indication of broader marsh ecosystem degradation. As such, a scarcity of muskrats should be considered a red flag for the state of biodiversity in our wetlands. Continued surveys and ongoing research are needed to shed more light on the current status of muskrat populations and their marsh habitats across their native range. Keywords: Fur harvest; Muskrat; Ondatra; Population decline; Typha; Wetlands

Peer review status:ACCEPTED

10 Dec 2020Submitted to Ecology and Evolution
16 Dec 2020Submission Checks Completed
16 Dec 2020Assigned to Editor
06 Jan 2021Reviewer(s) Assigned
21 Jan 2021Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
26 Jan 2021Editorial Decision: Revise Minor
24 Mar 20211st Revision Received
24 Mar 2021Submission Checks Completed
24 Mar 2021Assigned to Editor
24 Mar 2021Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
29 Mar 2021Editorial Decision: Accept