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Tue, Feb

Warming Signs: How Diminished Snow Cover Puts Species in Peril

Typography

The wolverine is highly adapted to life in a snowy world. It has thick fur and snowshoe-like feet, and it dens high in the mountains as a way to avoid predators that aren’t as nimble in deep snow and to provide its kits with insulation from the bitter high-elevation cold.

The wolverine is highly adapted to life in a snowy world. It has thick fur and snowshoe-like feet, and it dens high in the mountains as a way to avoid predators that aren’t as nimble in deep snow and to provide its kits with insulation from the bitter high-elevation cold.

But as snow cover in western North America diminishes — across much of the Rocky Mountain West there are up to two fewer weeks of snow cover than a half-century ago, a trend that’s expected to worsen — the wolverine is finding it tough sledding.

The wolverine raises kits in the spring, into May. With spring arriving markedly earlier, the animals may not be able to find new den sites because the snow that once lasted until later in the season has already melted. And because a great deal of the reduction in snowpack is taking place at lower elevations, it could mean that the best snowy habitat will be widely separated and will prevent wolverines from traveling from mountain range to mountain range. Some worry the animal may simply abandon the Northern Rockies, its last stronghold in the Lower 48 states.

“This is an animal that operates in a very specific habitat,” said Jeff Copeland, a retired U.S. Forest Service wolverine biologist and board member of the Wolverine Foundation. “Wolverines don’t reproduce in the absence of snow. We will be able to maintain them in the snowiest habitats, but we will probably lose them in some places.”

Read more at Yale Environment 360

Photo credit: skeeze via Pixabay