photo: Birgit Fostervold via flickr.
New research shows, for the first time, the connection between declining snowpack and the demise of a land species: It appears that as snow depths across northern Canada fall, wolverines are declining as well. That's the word from Dr Jedediah Brodie (somehow an appropriate name for an ecologist) of the University of Montana and colleagues in a new paper in the journal Population Ecology:Noting that in every western Canadian province except the Yukon snowpack depth has decline significantly from 1968-2004, the scientists examined records of the amount of wolverines caught by fur trappers during the same period.
Dr Brodie told the BBC:
In provinces where winter snowpack levels are declining fastest, wolverine populations tend to declining most rapidly. Spring snowpack also appears to influence wolverine population dynamics.
Only in the Northwest Territories, where snowpack is declining but remains higher than in other provinces, are wolverine numbers increasing.
Less Snow Means Less Food, Less Mobility
While the researchers say that have not determined the exact reason why wolverine numbers are correlating with snowpack but they suspect it's related to the ability of wolverines to establish new home ranges (they tend to use areas of deep snow to travel) and/or food availability (milder winters mean fewer of elk, moose and caribou die for wolverines to feed on).
Wolverines are the largest member of the weasel family, about the size of a small bear. Listed by the IUCN as of "least concern" conservation status, its range extends throughout northern latitudes in North America, Scandinavia, Russia and Siberia.
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