Indigenous communities have used muskrat fur to make clothing for generations and the animal’s meat is considered a seasonal delicacy. But it turns out decades of trapping are not primarily responsible for the animal’s decline across North America.
Instead, 46 years of satellite imagery show the Peace-Athabasca Delta has been drying out since the 1970s, significantly reducing muskrat habitat. Stanford University researchers published their findings in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
“The ecological impacts are not limited to muskrat – they extend far beyond that,” said lead author Ellen Ward, a doctoral candidate in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth). “These results suggest that maybe the widespread continental‑scale decline in this animal is actually being driven by a large‑scale loss in wetland and aquatic habitat.”
Ellen Ward is a 2013 William R. and Sara hart Kimball Stanford Graduate Fellow.