July 13, 2012

Wolverines Seek Spring ‘Refrigeration’ For Raising Young

Derek Walter for — Your Universe Online

When it comes to raising their young, wolverines need some refrigeration. As USA Today reported on a forthcoming study in the Journal of Mammology, researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society have uncovered some of why the feisty creatures tend to give birth in the spring.

It turns out wolverines, which generally live in Canada, Scandinavia, or Siberia, have their young as early as February in order to make maximum use of a spring “refrigeration zone.”

While wolverines eat meat they generally scavenge for food that is leftover from other carnivores, according to the researchers.

The clever animals are built for moving through the snow and surviving the cold conditions.

With their oversized feet and relatively light bodies, wolverines are well-adapted for moving over deep snow,” the report says. “This likely gives them a competitive advantage over other carnivores such as coyotes (Canis latrans) and bobcats (Lynx rufus); wolverines may be able to use snowbound areas from which these other carnivores are excluded.  In this context, packed snow-machine trails and plowed roads may reduce the quality of winter habitat for wolverines by providing travel corridors into formerly snowbound areas for generalist carnivores, which then compete with wolverine.”

Of further concern for researchers is how significantly human presence and behavior impacts wolverines. According to the study, wolverines have a high sensitivity to disturbance.

“Wolverines appear to be sensitive to disturbance in general, and disturbance to dens in particular. Winter recreationalists, especially snow-machine users, are typically cited as the primary source of disturbance.  Several experts contend that occurrence of wolverines is negatively correlated with occurrence of humans, and most wolverine observations come from areas of low human density and impact,” the authors wrote in the study.

Global warming is, however, an additional threat to wolverines. Given their reliance on snow and cooler conditions for storing their food, the warmer temperatures could have an adverse impact.

“A warming climate is not good for wolverines, they are adapted to cold conditions,” says Robert Inman of the Wildlife Conversation Society´s wolverine program in Ennis, Mont.