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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The genus Martes (Mustelidae) in North America: |b its distribution, variation, classification, phylogeny and relationship to old world forms Hagmeier, Edwin Moyer


Three subgenera of the genus Martes exist in the world today. The first, Martes, consists of the following species: M. M. foina, M. martes, M. melampus and M. zibellina; the second, Pekania, of only one, M. pennanti; and the third, Charronia, of one, M. flavigula, with sometimes a second, M. guatkinsi. Within the subgenus Martes, M. americana, M. martes, M. zibellina and possibly M. melampus are so closely related morphologically there appears good reason to believe that they all belong to one species. Two species occur in North America, namely M. americana and M. pennanti. Until recently M. americana was considered to consist two species, M. americana and M. caurina, and thirteen or so subspecies. The recent work of P. L. Wright indicates that while the two "species" are distinctive morphologically, they intergrade at the point where their ranges meet and must be considered a single species. Martes pennanti has been considered one species, consisting of three subspecies. The concept of the subspecies proves in many respects to be unsatisfactory. It lacks reality, it involves the arbitrary partitioning of continua, it possesses no lower limit, and it is determined deductively. This, together with the clinal nature of variation in marten and fisher leads to the conclusion that marten of the New World should be considered as represented by only two subspecies (M. a. americana and a. caurina), the fisher by one species, and no named subspecies. The distribution of marten and fisher corresponds closely to the distribution of the northern evergreen forests. The distribution is less precise in fisher than in marten. Fossils referable to the genus Martes are first recorded from the Miocene of both the Old and New Worlds. Twenty-eight fossil species are known (when synonyms are disposed of), of which five are still living, two of them in North America. It appears that modern martens and fishers arrived in the New World (or evolved there) late in the Pliocene or early in the Pleistocene. During the Pleistocene marten found habitable environments in the forest refugia of south eastern United States, the Rocky Mountains south of the ice sheet, the Coast and Cascade Mountains south of the ice sheet, and Alaska and Yukon. Fisher presumably occurred in all of these refugia except the Alaska-Yukon one. With post-glacial climatic amelioration they migrated to the regions of their present occurrence.

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