Climate change affecting wolverine populations
The snowpack that wolverines depend on for food is declining, according to new research.
Thu, Feb 04 2010 at 3:45 PM
Climate change is thwarting the efforts of the X-Men and mutant coalitions across North America. The BBC reports that a decline in snowpack is causing wolverine numbers to fall. (Oh wait, maybe the research is referring to the actual animal, not angry mutant humans.)
The wolverine is known for its tenacity, but may still soon be joining the dinosaurs in the extinction club. The wolverine’s habitat includes Scandinavia, northern Russia, northern China, Mongolia, and six provinces of western Canada.
The wolverine has evolved to become a predator perfectly suited to life on the snowpack, but a declining snowpack each year is causing the wolverine population to drop, according to recent research. This study, led by Dr. Jedediah Brodie of the University of Montana, is the first one to show the decline of any land species due to vanishing snowpack.
Comparing Canada’s robust records of both snowpack trends and the harvesting of fur-bearing animals by trappers, Brodie and his colleague, Professor Eric Post, found a correlation between the decreasing snowpack and decreasing wolverine numbers. Brodie isn’t yet sure why the dwindling snowpack is adversely affecting the wolverine population, but he has his suspicions.
"Recent work shows that wolverines appear to use areas with deep snowpack for dispersal. So reduced snowpack could make dispersal more difficult or dangerous, potentially reducing the success rate with which individuals can establish new home ranges … Reduced snowpack may also make it harder for wolverines to get food, for several reasons," he told the BBC.
Wolverines depend on harsh winters and deep snow to speed the demise of elk, moose, deer and caribou. The death of these large animals is a large part of the wolverine diet. They also eat smaller rodents, so you would think that shallower snowpack wouldn’t be the cause of the wolverine’s demise.
Unfortunately for the wolverine, a shallow snowpack is bad for rodents because it provides less insulation from the cold. The rodents are doubly doomed by the dwindling snowpack. Brodie says, "But we don't have to just sit back and watch climate change drive animals extinct. As climate change worsens, we should reduce trapping levels and also disturbance to boreal forest habitats. Reducing the impact of these anthropogenic stressors could help 'offset' the impacts of climate change on wolverines."
Even still, we could always send Hugh Jackman to swoop in and take care of his fellow wolverines.