Field of Science

Geomorphologic Groundhog Day !

We don’t know how much wood a woodchuck would chuck if he could chuck wood, but we know how much sediment he moves per year…

Biogeomorphology, also referred as ecogeomorphology or sometimes as zoogeomorphology, is the study of the links between ecology and geomorphology, or in simple terms between life-forms and landforms. Such interactions range from simple tracks left by an organism in the landscape to the complex cycles of energy and matter transfer (like for the element carbon) between the biosphere and the lithosphere.

The role of animals in the evolution of a landscape is still poorly studied, but one of the most interesting processes modifying a landscape involves digging animals.
Mammals move earth for two reasons – to collect food (digging up roots or other animals) or to dig a burrow. Large rodents, like the groundhogs (genus Marmota), are feared for their burrowing habits in agricultural areas, as the entrance to – or the collapse of – their extensive burrow systems can pose a hazard for machines or the livestock.

The density of burrows varies with the climate and environment, for example a humid mountain area can provide more food and guarantee the survival of more individuals than a dry steppe.
The increased activity of a large number of marmots can influence the surface runoff and erosion of a mountain slope and redistribute humus, moisture and mineral components in the soil profile. 

The research by TADZHIYEV & ODINOSHOYEV (1978) “Influence of marmots on soil cover of the eastern Pamirs” on the digging capacity of red marmots showed that they could move almost 28 cubic meter (that´s almost a medium-sized truck) of earth per hectare  in a single year. This suggests that on local scale marmots and relatives can play a quite important role as a geomorphologic factor.


BUTLER, D.R. (2009) Zoogeomorphology – Animals as Geomorphic Agents. Cambridge University Press: 239
GOUDIE, A.S. (ed) (2001): Encyclopedia of Geomorphology Volume 1 A-I. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, London – New York: 1156

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