Date of Award
Master of Science
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Michael R. Pelton
James T. Tanner, A. C. Echternacht
The purpose of this study was to delineate certain population characteristics and behavioral aspects of the woodchuck (Marmota monax) in the southeastern extremity of its range. Random quadrants from a grid system of the Cades Cove area, GSMNP, were systematically searched for active woodchuck burrow systems during the summers of 1976, 1977, and 1978. All burrow systems, topographical features, and buildings were marked on a scaled drawing and various burrow dimensions and land usage were recorded. Twice weekly between 7 July 1977 and 11 July 1978, observations were made of woodchucks to assess behavioral responses to the environment.
Seventy-five percent of active burrows were found to house permanent residents resulting in population estimates of 814, 1735, and 1351 woodchucks in Cades Cove for 1976, 1977, and 1978, respectively. The population was aggregated in response to land use and the availability of cover. Competition with cattle, predation and social interactions apparently influenced population numbers.
Mean activity observed per hour changed throughout the year in response to changing densities of non-hibernating woodchucks and changing activity levels per individual. Mean activity of woodchucks in Cades Cove differed from more northern populations due to a longer growing season and a shorter period of hibernation. Frequency distributions of various behaviors changed with season and time of day in response to reproductive condition, environmental conditions, and social interactions. Foraging was predominant during all seasons though it occurred less frequently than in northern populations. Alert positions occurred more frequently in summer and fall than during winter and spring. Resting, alert, traveling, and social behaviors were more prevalent during the afternoon. Daily activity patterns changed throughout the year with a unimodal distribution occurring in spring and fall and a bimodal distribution occurring in late spring and summer. The bimodal pattern was not found to occur in response to temperature as suggested by earlier researchers but rather was thought to be a result of individual activity levels. Cloud cover, temperature, and precipitation were found to affect activity over a yearly period, though differences were found in the seasonal effects of those variables. Though not significant over a year, relative humidity influenced behavior during certain seasons.
Taylor, Cathy A., "The Density, Distribution, and Activity Patterns of Woodchucks in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. " Master's Thesis, University of Tennessee, 1979.