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Western wolverines threatened by climate change

February 3, 2011 |  4:06 pm

Wolverine4_0

Wolverines in the continental United States could be wiped out by the end of the century if temperatures continue to rise, according to a new study from a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Springtime snow cover helps protect wolverine dens from predators, and the animal is built to thrive in deep powder. But, Synte Peacock, a NCAR scientist, applied computer models projecting climate change to the wolverine habitat in the northern Rockies. Under two of the three projected levels of severity of global warming, Peacock found that springtime snow cover will largely vanish in wolverine habitat by the second half of the century.

Similarly, Peacock found that summertime temperatures will skyrocket. Currently, the average August temperature in wolverine habitat is 72 degrees. That could rise to above 90 degrees by century's end, according to the more pessimistic models.

“Species that depend on snow cover for their survival are likely to be very vulnerable to climate change,” Peacock said. “It’s highly uncertain whether wolverines will continue to survive in the Lower 48, given the changes that are likely to take place there.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year said that climate change was enough of a threat to wolverines' viability that they deserved endangered species protection.

Wolverines inhabit a large area of boreal forests that includes Canada and northern Asia. Peacock's model was only applied to the continental U.S. habitat, but she noted that there are similar concerns about warming temperatures in other countries' wolverine habitats.

-- Nicholas Riccardi

Photo: The thick-furred wolverine is built for the snow and is highly vulnerable to climate change. Credit: Vince Maidens under Creative Commons License

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