Ord's Kangaroo Rat
Scientific Name: Dipodomys ordii
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
COSEWIC Range: Alberta, Saskatchewan
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: April 2017
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: A2abc+4abc; C2b
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This small, nocturnal rodent is restricted to 12 active sand hill complexes in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan, and is separated from the nearest occurrence of the species in the US by about 270 km. Its small population (fewer than 1,000 mature individuals in most years) varies unpredictably over short periods of time. It is threatened by cumulative human impacts including installation and maintenance of roads and service corridors, energy production, changing land uses, and light and noise pollution. These threats may exacerbate the other limiting factors of vegetation encroachment and stabilization of open sand dune habitats. Standardized annual population monitoring of the species in Alberta has revealed a 72% decline in abundance between 2006 and 2015, likely due to habitat decline and a substantial reduction in distribution. This is assumed to be representative of the entire Canadian population. This species was listed under SARA since 2007, and most of its habitat is unprotected.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Special Concern in April 1995. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in April 2006. Status re-examined and confirmed in April 2017.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2007-12-13
Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.
Image of Ord's Kangaroo Rat
Ord’s Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys ordii Woodhouse 1853) is a small (~70 g), nocturnal rodent that occupies habitats with loose, sandy soils typically associated with actively eroding sand dunes. It is the only kangaroo rat species (genus Dipodomys) that occurs in Canada. The Ord’s Kangaroo Rat is not closely related to kangaroos or Norway Rats, but has some shared features, including reduced front limbs and large hind legs and feet, which are used for hopping on two legs. It has orange-brown dorsal pelage with distinctive white markings on the head, underbelly, and hips and a long, tufted tail that is more than half the total length of the animal. Kangaroo rats are often considered a keystone species because of their seed predation and hoarding behaviour, vegetation clipping, and soil disturbance. They are also a common prey item for many species, including species of conservation concern. Kangaroo rats are sensitive to habitat change, particularly sand dune stabilization by vegetation, and the species is commonly used as an indicator or focal species of intact sand dune ecosystems. Animals from the Canadian population contrast with others in the United States and Mexico, from which it is geographically isolated, by their larger size, use of torpor to survive long periods of winter, and more rapid reproduction during the relatively short snow-free season. These may be adaptations that have been favoured by long-term isolation at the extreme northernmost periphery of the species’ range. [Updated 19/01/2018]
Distribution and Population
The species is widely distributed in the interior arid grasslands and deserts of western North America, from the southern Canadian prairies to central Mexico. In Canada, its distribution is restricted to 12 active sand hill complexes in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan. The Ord’s Kangaroo Rat in Canada constitutes a disjunct population at the northernmost part of the range, separated by approximately 270 km from the nearest population of the same species in Montana. High rates of overwinter mortality and summer reproduction lead to highly variable population sizes, both within and between years, making it difficult to estimate population size and detect population trends. The most recent estimate of peak population size for Ord's Kangaroo Rat in Canada was 4,957 mature individuals in 1995. Given the range-wide loss of habitat for the species, the current population size is assumed to be much lower. Estimates of minimum known alive for Alberta (assumed to be about 50% of the population) from 2006 – 2015 suggest strongly that peak population size for Canada is fewer than 1,000 individuals in most years. The Canadian population is lowest in number during early spring. Standardized population monitoring in Alberta (about half the population) from 2006 to 2015 indicates that the number of sites occupied by the species has decreased and that there is a 72% reduction in population size over the past 10 years. Population trend data are not available for Saskatchewan, although trends in Alberta are presumed to be representative of the overall Canadian population because similar threats and limiting factors (below) operate across the entire Canadian range of the species. [Updated 19/01/2018]
Ord’s Kangaroo Rat is a habitat specialist that is typically associated with the margins of actively eroding sand dunes and requires an open or sparsely vegetated, sandy habitat to facilitate its hopping locomotion and extensive burrowing. Its primary habitats are loose sandy soils associated with actively eroding sand dunes, sand flats, and sandy eroding slopes in sand hill regions. Secondarily, kangaroo rats may occupy other sandy areas where the soil has been disturbed by humans (e.g., roads and fireguards), but there is evidence that such habitats may be associated with higher levels of mortality. Actively eroding sand dune habitats have declined in recent decades on the Canadian prairies, due to shifts in climate regimes and changing land use and vegetation disturbance regimes. Primary habitats in Canada are discretely distributed in space and are embedded within a landscape matrix dominated by agriculture. Thus, existing habitat is highly fragmented, with habitat patches separated from one another by distances that are beyond the typical dispersal distance of the species. Because of this patchiness, the Canadian population functions as a metapopulation with high levels of turnover.[Updated 19/01/2018]
Ord’s Kangaroo Rats spend most of their life below ground in elaborate subterranean burrows that provide shelter from winter conditions or other inclement weather and conceal them from above-ground predators, especially during the daytime. Above-ground activity is almost exclusively nocturnal, and most activities are restricted to nighttime when there is little or no ambient light (e.g., moonlight). The species forages primarily on seeds, which it will attempt to cache below ground in sufficient quantity to sustain individuals through the winter period when cold temperatures and snow cover prevent efficient foraging. Except for mothers rearing offspring, kangaroo rats are highly solitary; they are also aggressively territorial, presumably in defence of their underground residences and seed caches. Winter starvation and hypothermia appear to be the most common sources of mortality for the species; overwinter mortality rates of up to 90% have been documented. Most Ord’s Kangaroo Rats in Canada survive less than 1 year. The Canadian population of Ord’s Kangaroo Rat exhibits high rates of reproduction from spring to late summer—a strategy that compensates for high overwinter mortality. Females that survive the winter can rear up to four litters in a single season, and litter size averages about three offspring. Juveniles become reproductively active at the early age of approximately 47 days, so the species has the reproductive capacity to expand quickly under ideal conditions. [Updated 19/01/2018]
Direct threats from individual human activities pose relatively low population-level impacts on their own, but cumulatively represent a high threat to the species in Canada in combination with natural limiting factors. The following threats are recognized to pose risks of direct and indirect impacts and may exacerbate the effects of natural limiting factors: transportation and service corridors (roads, trails, pipelines), energy production, light and noise pollution, invasive and other problematic species (predators and parasites), natural system modifications (fire suppression, absence of Plains Bison; Bison bison bison), climate change and severe weather, commercial developments, and agricultural crop and livestock production. Some potential threats, such as military training and livestock grazing, may also have positive benefits under certain conditions. The primary limiting factor for the persistence of Ord’s Kangaroo Rats in Canada is vegetation encroachment and stabilization of open sand dune habitats. This specialized habitat is undergoing a long-term trend of loss that is driven primarily by variation in natural climatic conditions, particularly increased precipitation and growing season length that favours vegetation growth and dune stabilization. Yet, many human threats contribute to this trend and exacerbate its effects. In addition, the combination of a relatively small population that undergoes substantial seasonal fluctuations puts Canadian Ord’s Kangaroo Rats at imminent risk of extirpation. [Updated 19/01/2018]
The Ord's Kangaroo Rat is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.
Provincial and Territorial Protection
Status of Recovery Planning
Recovery Strategies :
Name Recovery Strategy for the Ord’s Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys ordii) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry
PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.
13 record(s) found.
- COSEWIC Status Reports (2 record(s) found.)
- Response Statements (2 record(s) found.)
- Recovery Strategies (1 record(s) found.)
- Orders (2 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Annual Reports (2 record(s) found.)
- Permits and Related Agreements (1 record(s) found.)
- Consultation Documents (2 record(s) found.)
- Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette (1 record(s) found.)
COSEWIC Status Reports
Response Statement - Ord's Kangaroo Rat (2018-01-18)This small, nocturnal rodent is restricted to 12 active sand hill complexes in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan, and is separated from the nearest occurrence of the species in the US by about 270 km. Its small population (fewer than 1,000 mature individuals in most years) varies unpredictably over short periods of time. It is threatened by cumulative human impacts including installation and maintenance of roads and service corridors, energy production, changing land uses, and light and noise pollution. These threats may exacerbate the other limiting factors of vegetation encroachment and stabilization of open sand dune habitats. Standardized annual population monitoring of the species in Alberta has revealed a 72% decline in abundance between 2006 and 2015, likely due to habitat decline and a substantial reduction in distribution. This is assumed to be representative of the entire Canadian population. This species was listed under SARA since 2007, and most of its habitat is unprotected.
Response Statements - Ord's Kangaroo Rat (2006-11-29)The species requires sand dune habitat, which may disappear over the short term (10 years). The area of occupancy is only about 53 km² and only 1000 or fewer individuals are alive at the end of most winters. There is strong evidence for local adaptations of the Canadian population and a rescue effect is extremely unlikely because the nearest population in the United States is 270 km away.
COSEWIC Annual Reports
COSEWIC Annual Report - 2006 (2006-08-30)2006 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
COSEWIC Annual Report 2016 to 2017 (2017-10-24)Over the past year COSEWIC re-examined the status of 40 wildlife species; of these, the majority (78 %) were reassessed at the same or lower level of risk. Of a total of 73 species assessed 11 were assigned the status of Not at Risk (8 re-assessments and 3 new assessments). To date and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 735 wildlife species in various risk categories including 321 Endangered, 172 Threatened, 219 Special Concern and 23 Extirpated (i.e. - no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition 16 species have been assessed as Extinct, 58 have been designated as Data Deficient and 186 were assessed and assigned Not at Risk status.