Climate change leaves wolverines on slippery slope

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Wolverines, those vociferous, marathon-climbing, fearless relatives of the sea otter may soon face a foe that no amount of bravery can outlast — climate change.

Climate model results from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, show wolverine habitat in the Lower 48 warming significantly from climate change during the second half of the century. The pending warmer climes threaten snow cover that is vital to the wolverine’s survival.

“It’s highly uncertain whether wolverines will continue to survive in the lower 48, given the changes that are likely to take place there,” said NCAR scientist Synte Peacock in a press release, and the lead author of a paper, which appears in Environmental Research Letters.

Wolverine Den (Photo/Wikimedia Commons,Ernst Vikne)

Wolverine Den (Photo/Wikimedia Commons,Ernst Vikne)

Wolverines dig snow dens for their kits 8 to 10 feet deep, and are specially adapted to run and hunt across the snow. Snow pack also helps preserve carrion that the wolverines rely on for sustenance throughout the winter. While about 15,000 wolverines are estimated to live across Canada and Alaska, only a few dozen are thought to still live in Montana, Wyoming and Washington State, according to the press release.

If the plight of the wolverine is not the kind of thing that gets your hair on end, there’s still reason to care. The study also found that a side effect of the loss of snow melt means big impacts for people as well. The projected lack of snow could reduce the amount of water in Idaho, western Montana and western Wyoming by as much as three or four-fold by the end of the century. Get those water-saving shower heads now.

The study is not meant to bring only doom and gloom. Researcher say this kind of analysis could help us think preventative. “This study is an example of how targeted climate predictions can produce new insights that could help us reduce the impact of future climate change on delicate ecosystems,” said Sarah Ruth, program director for the NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences in a press release.

Wolverine (Photo/U.S. National Park Service)

Wolverine (Photo/U.S. National Park Service)

A critter of unique character — to really understand what makes the wolverine such a remarkable creature, check out Douglas Chadwick’s book, The Wolverine Way. Even if you’re not a wildlife lover, this is an adventurous read that will leave you in awe of what a creature will do to survive.

NCAR Study available here.

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