The wolverine: new proposals may renew hope in their survival

A couple of years ago, I attended a seminar sponsored by the Climate and Global Dynamics Division (CGD) of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) on how climate change is threatening the survival of wolverines (Gulo gulo).  This scientist, Synte Peacock from CGD, painted a gloomy outlook for this ferocious creature after using a climate model to examine changes in spring snow cover and summer air temperatures.    However, recent legislative proposals may make the future a little brighter.


A wolverine. Photo Credit: Steve Kroschel.  From U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A wolverine. Photo Credit: Steve Kroschel. From U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The wolverine, a member of the weasel family, once used to roam central Europe and the Midwestern United States.  These habitats correlated to persistent spring snow cover, due to the need of consistent snowpack for reproductive success.  Female wolverines dig out birthing dens deep in the snow to protect their young from predators and harsh temperatures.  Even so, wolverines are very well equipped to survive in frigid cold temperatures, but have difficulty when temperatures reach above 22°C.

More recently, the wolverine is now found only in the northern boreal forests and subarctic and alpine tundra of Scandinavia, Russia, Canada, and the northern United States due to changes in their habitat.  Regions that once saw significant snowfalls, such as the state of Michigan in the United States, no longer are home to these creatures.

In her research, Peacock looked at three different emissions scenarios to determine what would happen to the wolverine’s habitat and thus the wolverine.  In the scenarios where emissions continue at their current level and do not drop until at least 2050, the future is grim.  Spring snow cover may completely vanish as well as high temperatures during the month of August could exceed 32°C.  These two factors would be detrimental to the creature’s survival.

In the past few years, there have been legislative proposals to include the North American Wolverine under the Endangered Species Act, and a recent announcement  brings the topic back to the forefront.  To date, there are only 250-300 wolverines remaining in the Contiguous United States.  With this legislative protection, the wolverines will be protected from hunting and trapping and give the species the ability to repopulate.  It is hoped that this opportunity would allow the species to continue to thrive.

Suggested activity: As members of the GLOBE community, you have the ability to collect important temperature  and precipitation  data, especially if you reside in the areas where wolverines still exist.  Even if you do not, this type of information is important to other species that are climate-sensitive.  Go outside and collect air temperature and precipitation data, and consider getting involved in the Phenology and Climate Intensive Observing Period to see how climate change might be affecting the growing season of plant species.  Also, consider using this topic to inspire your video for the Student Climate Research Campaign’s Earth Day 2013 Video Competition , which explores how doing GLOBE has improved your local community.

More Blog Entries