Built to thrive in deep powder snow, springtime snow cover helps protect wolverine dens from predators. However, the new study shows that climate change might endanger wolverines in the mainland U.S. by eliminating springtime snow and significantly increasing summer temperatures.
State of the art global climate model
Some 15,000 or more wolverines are currently believed to roam Canada, and an unknown number reside in Alaska. Only a few dozen to a few hundred are believed to live in the mainland U.S., almost all of them in the mountains of Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and Washington State.
Using a state of the art global climate model, the study’s author Synte Peacock explored possible future scenarios for the Northwest U.S. The model showed that present-day wolverine habitat would probably have no snow cover during many springs after 2050 and that summer temperatures may also increase radically across wolverine habitat.
Wolverines to retreat as snow melts
“That fast drop in spring snow cover was a real surprise to me, and it’s something you see even in a pretty moderate scenario. Without spring snow, wolverines would have to adapt very rapidly to find new ways of sheltering their young” Peacock said.
Although it’s unclear exactly how wolverines would respond to such changes, the new simulations suggest that the very low numbers of wolverines currently living in the mainland U.S. would likely decline further in response to habitat deterioration.
Wolverines have a circumpolar distribution in the northern hemisphere, and are found from the western U.S., Canada, and Alaska to Russia, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. Although Peacock’s model was only applied to the mainland U.S. she noted that there are similar concerns about warming temperatures in other countries where wolverines occur.
To read more, see the National Geographic article.
Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author