Thursday, 13 December 2018

Drying Canadian wetland drives muskrat decline

Date: November 26, 2018
Source: Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences
Indigenous communities have used muskrat fur to make clothing for generations and the animal's meat is considered a seasonal delicacy. But it turns out decades of trapping are not primarily responsible for the animal's decline across North America.
Instead, 46 years of satellite imagery show the Peace-Athabasca Delta has been drying since the 1970s, significantly reducing muskrat habitat. Stanford University researchers published their findings in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
"The ecological impacts are not limited to muskrat -- they extend far beyond that," said lead author Ellen Ward, a doctoral candidate in Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth). "These results suggest that maybe the widespread continental-scale decline in this animal is actually being driven by a large-scale loss in wetland and aquatic habitat."
More than just muskrat
Located in northeast Alberta, the Peace-Athabasca Delta is a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance and North America's largest inland freshwater delta. The area comprises habitat for about 200 bird species as well as the threatened wood bison, which is among the largest land animals on the continent. The semi-aquatic muskrat is native to North America and an important ecological indicator since the species is highly sensitive to changing hydrologic conditions.

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