1. The presence/absence of a species at a particular site is the simplest form of data that can be collected during ecological field studies. We used 13 years (1990-2002) of survey data to parameterize a stochastic patch occupancy model for a metapopulation of the yellow-bellied marmot in Colorado, and investigated the significance of particular patches and the influence of site quality, network characteristics and regional stochasticity on the metapopulation persistence. 2. Persistence of the yellow-bellied marmot metapopulation was strongly dependent on the high quality colony sites, and persistence probability was highly sensitive to small changes in the quality of these sites. 3. A relatively small number of colony sites was ultimately responsible for the regional persistence. However, lower quality satellite sites also made a significant contribution to long-term metapopulation persistence, especially when regional stochasticity was high. 4. The northern network of the marmot metapopulation was more stable compared to the southern network, and the persistence of the southern network depended heavily on the northern network. 5. Although complex models of metapopulation dynamics may provide a more accurate description of metapopulation dynamics, such models are data-intensive. Our study, one of the very few applications of stochastic patch occupancy models to a mammalian species, suggests that stochastic patch occupancy models can provide important insights into metapopulation dynamics using data that are easy to collect.