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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Recolonization following past persecution questions the importance of persistent snow cover as a range limiting factor for wolverines

Persson, Jens; Ordiz, Andres; Ladle, Andrew; Andren, Henrik; Aronsson, Malin


Globally, climate is changing rapidly, which causes shifts in many species' distributions, stressing the need to understand their response to changing environmental conditions to inform conservation and management. Northern latitudes are expected to experience strongest changes in climate, with milder winters and decreasing snow cover. The wolverine (Gulo gulo) is a circumpolar, threatened carnivore distributed in northern tundra, boreal, and subboreal habitats. Previous studies have suggested that wolverine distribution and reproduction are constrained by a strong association with persistent spring snow cover. We assess this hypothesis by relating spatial distribution of 1589 reproductive events, a fitness-related proxy for female reproduction and survival, to snow cover over two decades. Wolverine distribution has increased and number of reproductive events increased 20 times in areas lacking spring snow cover during our study period, despite low monitoring effort where snow is sparse. Thus, the relationship between reproductive events and persistent spring snow cover weakened during this period. These findings show that wolverine reproductive success and hence distribution are less dependent on spring snow cover than expected. This has important implications for projections of future habitat availability, and thus distribution, of this threatened species. Our study also illustrates how past persecution, or other factors, that have restricted species distribution to remote areas can mask actual effects of environmental parameters, whose importance reveals when populations expand beyond previously restricted ranges. Overwhelming evidence shows that climate change is affecting many species and ecological processes, but forecasting potential consequences on a given species requires longitudinal data to revisit hypotheses and reassess the direction and magnitude of climate effects with new data. This is especially important for conservation-oriented management of species inhabiting dynamic systems where environmental factors and human activities interact, a common scenario for many species in different ecosystems around the globe.


arctic; boreal landscapes; carnivore; climate change; endangered populations; Gulo gulo; population limitation; wildlife

Published in

Global Change Biology
2023, Volume: 29, number: 20, pages: 5802-5815
Publisher: WILEY