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Wolver­ines need refrig­er­a­tors sci­en­tists say

pub­lished 14 July 2012 | mod­i­fied 05 Decem­ber 2012

The cold caches play a par­tic­u­larly impor­tant role in wolver­ine (Gulo gulo) repro­duc­tive suc­cess, as they pro­vide a source of nutri­tion for lac­tat­ing females while they are nurs­ing young.

Peo­ple don’t nor­mally think of insects and microbes as being in com­pe­ti­tion for food with wolver­ines, but in fact, bac­te­ria will devour an unpro­tected food source if that source is available
Robert Inman of WCS, lead author »

Wolver­ines live in harsh con­di­tions; they range over large areas of cold moun­tain­ous low-​productivity habi­tat with per­sis­tent snow. The paper sug­gests wolver­ines take advan­tage of the crevices and boul­ders of the moun­tain­ous ter­rain, as well as the snow cover to cache and “refrig­er­ate” food sources such as elk, cari­bou, moose and moun­tain goat car­rion, ground squir­rels and other food col­lected dur­ing more plen­ti­ful times of year. These cold, struc­tured cham­bers pro­vide pro­tec­tion of the food sup­ply from scav­engers, insects and bac­te­ria. In addi­tion, the refrig­er­ated caches increase the pre­dictabil­ity of avail­able food resources, reduce the energy spent by females search­ing for food while in lac­ta­tion phase, and decrease the time moth­ers spend away from cubs.

ARKive photo - Wolverine walking in snow

Through an exten­sive lit­er­ary review, the authors noted that wolver­ine repro­duc­tion is con­fined to a brief period of the year, and the lac­ta­tion phase in females (Feb­ru­ary through April) cor­re­sponds to a period of low avail­abil­ity of food resources. Wolver­ines, which are oppor­tunis­tic for­agers, have adapted by amass­ing food caches dur­ing the pre­ced­ing win­ter months when food is more read­ily avail­able. With­out the cached food sup­ply or an unfore­seen alter­na­tive (such as a winter-​killed ungu­late), early lit­ter loss occurs.

Under­stand­ing why and how wolver­ines exist where they do and the var­i­ous adap­ta­tions they have evolved to eke out a liv­ing will bet­ter inform pop­u­la­tion man­age­ment strate­gies and con­ser­va­tion of the species
(Robert Inman)

Cli­mate change will play a key role in man­age­ment plan­ning for the con­ser­va­tion of wolver­ines, the authors say.

In a study pub­lished in 2010, wolver­ine biol­o­gists demon­strated a rela­tion­ship between the areas where wolver­ines exist (their dis­tri­b­u­tion) and per­sis­tent snow cover. The first the­ory advanced was that wolver­ines must have deep snow avail­able in spring­time so that they can give birth to their small cubs in a warm, secure den. The newly released study sug­gests that other fac­tors related to cli­mate and snow pack, such as com­pe­ti­tion for food, may also be involved in explain­ing the lim­its to wolver­ine dis­tri­b­u­tion.

Because of their depen­dence on snow pack, wolver­ines were recently listed as war­ranted for pro­tec­tion under the Endan­gered Species Act due in large part to the threat of cli­mate change reduc­ing dis­tri­b­u­tion and habi­tat con­nec­tiv­ity. The authors say that a deeper under­stand­ing of how and why wolver­ines use snow pack the ways they do is crit­i­cal to under­stand­ing how cli­mate change will impact sur­vival and repro­duc­tive rates. Pro­jec­tions of 21st cen­tury cli­mate change on wolver­ine habi­tats in the United States can be found here.

The paper appears in the cur­rent edi­tion of the Jour­nal of Mam­mal­ogy and was co-​authored by Robert M. Inman of WCS, Audrey J. Magoun of Wildlife Research and Man­age­ment, Jens Pers­son of the Swedish Uni­ver­sity of Agri­cul­tural Sci­ences, and Jenny Mat­tis­son of the Nor­we­gian Insti­tute for Nature Research. Inman co-​authored a study in Decem­ber of 2011 on the spa­tial ecol­ogy of wolver­ines in the Jour­nal of Wildlife Man­age­ment. This lat­est paper rep­re­sents the sec­ond of sev­eral that will help to inform a con­ser­va­tion strat­egy for the species.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at WCS. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.

(Source: Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety, 11.07.2012)

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