Wolverines may use crevices in snow-covered areas to store food for times of need, rendering them vulnerable to global warming, according to a new international study.
These carnivorous mammals belong to the weasel family and have large ranges in mountainous areas. They feed on carrion and a variety of live prey, including elk, mountain goats, and ground squirrels.
Food is more plentiful during early winter. By caching some in chilled chambers, these predators can avoid competition from bacteria and other scavengers.
“People don’t normally think of insects and microbes as being in competition for food with wolverines,” said lead author Robert Inman of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s North America Program in a statement.
“But in fact, bacteria will devour an unprotected food source if that source is available.”
Female wolverines could also rely on these stashes to minimize time away from their cubs while lactating, which occurs between February and April, when food is scarce.
The researchers hope to improve population management strategies and conservation of the species. Climate change is an important aspect of this.
A previous study revealed a correlation between wolverine distribution and persistent spring snow cover. Apart from food-based explanations, another possible factor is that they need deep snow to create warm, safe dens for breeding.
The study was published in the Journal of Mammalogy last month.
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