Friday, 26 May 2017

Are wolverines in the Arctic in the climate change crosshairs?

Date: May 24, 2017
Source: Wildlife Conservation Society
Will reductions in Arctic snow cover make tundra-dwelling wolverines more vulnerable to climate change than previously thought?

That's a question scientists hope an innovative method described in a new study co-authored by WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) will help answer.

Wolverines are the largest land-dwelling members of the weasel family, and use snow-pack for denning, caching food, and other needs. Since snow cover provides a key component to wolverine habitat, determining where snow will be available, and in what amounts, will be critical to managing the future for the elusive carnivores.

That determination is seen as key to deciding listing under the Endangered Species Act. To better inform this discussion, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has stated the need for more information on the relationship of wolverine distribution to persistent snow at the den-scale.

In their study, the authors looked at snow at the den-site scale in late May using low-altitude aerial photography in wolverine denning habitat both in the Rocky Mountains of the western United States and in northwestern Alaska.

In the Rocky Mountains, they documented snow in all but one study area. Snow in the Alaska study area was mostly gone, with only widely scattered patches remaining for cover. The study emphasizes the need for additional surveys to determine whether reductions in Arctic snow cover could make tundra-dwelling wolverines more vulnerable to climate change than previously thought.

Meanwhile, the WCS Arctic Beringia Program is focusing on how wolverines use that snow and how obligate this usage is -- information vital to optimally managing this species in a time of rapid climatic change.


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