Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Wolverine population threatened by climate change

Date:
February 3, 2011
Source:
National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
Summary:
Wolverine habitat in the northwestern United States is likely to warm dramatically if society continues to emit large amounts of greenhouse gases, according to new computer model simulations. The study found that climate change is likely to imperil the wolverine in two ways: reducing or eliminating the springtime snow cover that wolverines rely on to protect and shelter newborn kits, and increasing August temperatures well beyond what the species may be able to tolerate.

Wolverine. The aggressive wolverine may not be powerful enough to survive climate change in the contiguous United States, new research concludes.
Credit: iStockphoto/Kurt Hahn

The aggressive wolverine may not be powerful enough to survive climate change in the contiguous United States, new research concludes.

Wolverine habitat in the northwestern United States is likely to warm dramatically if society continues to emit large amounts of greenhouse gases, according to new computer model simulations carried out at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The study found that climate change is likely to imperil the wolverine in two ways: reducing or eliminating the springtime snow cover that wolverines rely on to protect and shelter newborn kits, and increasing August temperatures well beyond what the species may be able to tolerate.

"Species that depend on snow cover for their survival are likely to be very vulnerable to climate change," says NCAR scientist Synte Peacock, the author of the study. "It's highly uncertain whether wolverines will continue to survive in the lower 48, given the changes that are likely to take place there."

Peacock's research focused on mountainous regions of the Northwest, the primary habitat of the wolverine population in the contiguous United States. The study did not look into the impacts of climate change on regions where wolverines are more numerous, such as Canada, although other research has indicated those areas will likely warm significantly as well.

The study was published last week in Environmental Research Letters. It was funded by the National Science Foundation, NCAR's sponsor.

An animal built for the cold

Wolverines make their home mainly in the boreal forests and tundra regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. Their thick, oily fur insulates them from frost and large padded paws help them run through deep snow. While some 15,000 or more wolverines are believed to roam Canada and an unknown number in Alaska, only a few dozen to a few hundred are believed to live in the contiguous United States, almost entirely in mountainous areas in Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and Washington.

Wolverines inhabit regions that have late-season snow cover and relatively cool summer temperatures. Female wolverines make their springtime dens in the snow, which provides warmth to the newborn kits and protects them from predators.

Biologists are dubious that the species could survive in regions with little spring snow or significantly higher summertime temperatures. Concerned over habitat loss and the potential threat of climate change, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced in December 2010 that the wolverine warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act, but delayed that protection because other species took higher priority.

To project the future climate in regions of the contiguous United States where wolverines live, Peacock analyzed results from new simulations carried out by a team of researchers at NCAR using the newest version of the Community Climate System Model (which was developed by scientists at the Department of Energy and NCAR with colleagues at other organizations). She analyzed three scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions: low (carbon dioxide emissions stay at present-day levels until 2020 and then decline to zero by the early 2080s); medium-low (emissions rise slightly until 2040 and then decline sharply toward the end of the century); and high (emissions continue to increase unabated).

In the high emissions scenario, the computer simulations showed spring snow cover nearly or completely vanishing during the second half of this century in present-day wolverine habitat. Similarly, spring snow cover in the medium-low scenario became greatly diminished, with many years experiencing zero snow cover. Under the low emissions scenario, springtime snow cover conditions remained similar to those of the present day.

The computer projections also showed that August temperatures may increase dramatically. Whereas August temperatures currently top off at about 72 degrees F (22 degrees C) in areas where wolverines live, maximum daily temperatures by the end of the century were projected to frequently exceed 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) under the two higher-emissions scenarios.

"Unless the wolverine is able to very rapidly adapt to summertime temperatures far above anything it currently experiences, and to a spring with little or no snow cover, it is unlikely that it will continue to survive in the contiguous U.S. under a high or medium-low emissions scenario," the study concludes.

The model simulations also indicated the extent to which climate change may transform the West, where society depends on mountain snowpack. This critical source of water could decrease by a factor of three to four over Idaho, western Montana, and western Wyoming by the end of this century under the high emissions scenario. Even under the medium-low emissions scenario, snowpack could drop by a factor of two to three in these regions.

Peacock checked the accuracy of the model by comparing simulations of late 20th century climate with observations. Results indicated that the model did a good job simulating climate conditions in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Since the model tended to underestimate snowpack in Washington, Peacock did not include that state in the study.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Synte Peacock. Projected 21st century climate change for wolverine habitats within the contiguous United States. Environmental Research Letters, 2011; 6 (1): 014007 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/6/1/014007

Cite This Page:

National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. "Wolverine population threatened by climate change." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110203132308.htm>.
National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. (2011, February 3). Wolverine population threatened by climate change. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110203132308.htm
National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. "Wolverine population threatened by climate change." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110203132308.htm (accessed September 22, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Monday, September 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Newsy (Sep. 21, 2014) Organizers of the People's Climate March and other rallies taking place in 166 countries hope to move U.N. officials to action ahead of their summit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
UN's Ban: Climate Change 'defining Issue of Our Time'

UN's Ban: Climate Change 'defining Issue of Our Time'

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 21, 2014) United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marches with hundreds of thousands of people in New York for the international day of action on climate change. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

AP (Sep. 21, 2014) Accompanied by drumbeats, wearing costumes and carrying signs, thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Manhattan and other cities around the world on Sunday to urge policy makers to take action on climate change. (Sept. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

AFP (Sep. 20, 2014) Some 125 world leaders are expected to commit to action on climate change at a UN summit Tuesday called to inject momentum in struggling efforts to tackle global warming. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins