U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Ecology of an Isolated Muskrat Population during Regional Population Declines

Laken S. Ganoe, Pennsylvania State University
Matthew J. Lovallo, Bureau of Wildlife Management
Justin D. Brown, Pennsylvania State University
W. David Walter, Pennsylvania State University

Document Type Article


Evidence indicating a decline in Ondatra zibethicus (Muskrat) populations in the United States during the past 40 years has led to speculation regarding factors influencing Muskrat survival. In order to understand population dynamics and survival, it is important to first define the ecology of local populations. We investigated the dwelling structure use, movements, home range, and survival of radio-tagged Muskrats (n = 14) in an urban wetland complex in central Pennsylvania. We used locations collected from intensive radio-telemetry monitoring to determine number of lodging structures used, hourly movement, and size and percent area overlap of home ranges. Muskrats shared an average of 9 lodging structures, and on average, 68% of a Muskrat's home range overlapped home ranges of other Muskrats. We used 4 home-range estimators (kernel density estimator [KDE]href, KDEad hoc, KDEplug-in, and local convex hull estimator) to assess the ability of each estimator to represent Muskrat home ranges. The KDEplug-in that constrained the estimate of home range to habitat boundaries provided the most appropriate home-range size for Muskrats in a linear-non-linear habitat matrix. We also calculated overwinter survival estimates using known-fate models. Our top model indicated a positive effect of the average weekly precipitation on survival, with an overwinter survival estimate of 0.59 (SE = 0.16). The main cause of Muskrat mortality was predation by Neovison vison (American Mink; n = 6). The small sample size and uncertainty surrounding our model selection led to weak estimates of survival; however, our model suggests that snowfall may be an important factor in Muskrat survival. Our study provides novel data on Muskrat ecology in Pennsylvania as well as preliminary evidence for future investigations of factors affecting Muskrat survival during the winter months.