Marmot Mounds by Satellite


Marmots are burrowing rodents whose mounds can be seen from space. This activity compares current data with images of marmot mounds taken from spy satellites decades ago during the Cold War, to draw conclusions about changes in marmot populations over time. A key measure of how well a species is doing is abundance. The total population of a species can be a good indicator of how well their habitat needs are being met. Abundance numbers are relative because some species, like mammalian top predators, have naturally smaller populations, while many insects have huge population numbers. Evidence about population size in the past is essential to understand how well we’re protecting species today.


Middle School Life Science, High School Biology, AP Biology, Environmental Science, AP Environmental Science, College Environmental Science, Natural Resources, Ecology, Conservation Biology, Environmental Studies, History, Social Studies

You will need:

Printed Paper maps

Digital map files

Online half-earth map

Marmot Mounds by Satellite

Learning Objectives

  • Build skills in observation and data interpretation to measure human impacts on species and how a species modifies the environment, which can be used to measure their abundance and population health.

Key Terms + Conditions

  • Agriculture
  • Baseline Data
  • Satellite Images
  • Population Trends
  • Keystone Species
  • Ecological Impact
  • Habitat

Top tips for Instructors

While the lesson activity focuses on the Eurasian Bobak Marmot, students can compare and contrast this species to one of the more well-known North American Marmot: the groundhog. Ask your students, how important are each of these Marmota species as ecosystem engineers/keystone species in each of their places?

For additional details on the use of satellite data to analyze the impact of agricultural development on marmot populations, as well as how marmot populations change the landscape, check out this additional study published in Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation.  

For a fun dive into the world of Marmota monax, check out this podcast. Or discover a marmot species in Vancouver Island, Canada, that is unique to high altitude meadows. 

Community Reviews

Leave a Reply

Compare ×
Compare National Report Cards Continue Reviewing