Ground squirrels of the genus Marmota are known for their ability to tolerate bitterly cold climates, which they in part accomplish with their exceptional ability to hibernate for as much as eight months a year (Armitage et al., 2003). Most of the 15 living species are associated with montane habitats, and those that are not, like the North American woodchuck (Marmota monax) and the eastern European and central Asian bobak (M. bobak) inhabit regions with strongly seasonal climates and often bitterly cold winters (Armitage, 2000) (Figure 9.1). All marmots construct burrows, which can be more than one metre deep even in comparatively mild climates and as much as seven metres deep in the harsh climates of the Himalayas (Barash, 1989). During the cold phases of the last half of the Quaternary the fossil record demonstrates many marmots inhabited periglacial environments (Zimina and Gerasimov, 1973; Kalthoff, 1999). For these reasons, marmots are sometimes considered to be a quintessentially Quaternary clade, specialists on the cold variable climates that are unique to the past 2.6 million years of Earth's history. The world in which they originated, however, was very different; a warmer one in which there were no tundra biomes, no glacial–interglacial cycles, and no permanent ice cover in the Northern Hemisphere. In this chapter, we review the fossil and phylogenetic history of marmots, the palaeoenvironments in which they originated, and their relationship to glacial–interglacial cycles to better understand the contexts in which the specializations of this unique clade of rodents arose.
The Quaternary, the current geological period, is defined by the onset of permanent ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere 2.58 million years ago and is by far the coldest period since the extinction of the last non-avian dinosaurs 65 million years ago (Zachos et al., 2001; Gibbard et al., 2010).
Potato is South America's greatest gift to world agriculture and human nutrition (Graves, 2001). A dietary staple of indigenous Andean peoples for eight millennia, potato was unknown to the rest of the world before the mid sixteenth century. Today, potato is the world's fourth most important food crop, after maize, wheat and rice, and is grown on a significant scale in more than 130 countries on six continents with annual tuber production exceeding 320 million tonnes (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2007). In recognition of potato's potential to provide food security and eradicate poverty, 2008 has been proclaimed International Year of the Potato.
In most production systems, potato is clonally propagated from “seed” tubers. Clonal propagation offers agronomic and genetic advantages, e.g. vigorous early growth, higher yields and consistent expression of desirable traits. More than 10% of world potato production is used to provide “seed tubers” for planting the next production season. Seed potato tubers can be infected with a wide range of pests and pathogens which may affect growth of the crop and health of progeny tubers. Thus, access to high-quality, disease-free seed potatoes has been described as “the single most important integrated pest management practice available to potato growers” (Gutbrod & Mosley, 2001). Seed potato lots can be downgraded or rejected for recertification for myriad causes from “varietal mix” to herbicide injury. However, aphid-transmitted, tuber-borne potato viruses far exceed all others.
I have often wondered that, in so inquisitive an age as this, among those many learned men that have with much freedom, as well as acuteness, written of the works of nature (as they call them) – and some of them of the principles too – I have not met with any that has made it his business to write of nature herself. This will perhaps hereafter be thought such an omission as if, in giving an account of the political estate of a kingdom, one should treat largely of the civil judges, military officers and other subordinate magistrates, and of the particular ranks and orders of inferior subjects and plebeians, but should be silent of the prerogatives and ways of administration of the king; or (to use a comparison more suitable to the subject) as if one should particularly treat of the barrel, wheels, string, balance, index and other parts of a watch, without examining the nature of the spring that sets all these a moving. When I say this, I do not forget that the word ‘nature’ is everywhere to be met with in the writings of physiologers. But though they frequently employ the word, they seem not to have much considered what notion ought to be framed of the thing, which they suppose and admire, and upon occasion celebrate, but do not call in question or discuss.
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