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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2012

The wolverine's niche: linking reproductive chronology, caching, competition, and climate

Inman, R.M.; Magoun, A.; Persson, Jens; Mattisson, J


Wolverines are demographically vulnerable and susceptible to impacts from climate change. Their distribution is correlated with persistent spring snow cover, but food-based explanations for this relationship have not been explored. We synthesize information on the timing of both wolverine reproductive events and food availability to improve our understanding of the behaviors, habitat features, and foods that influence reproductive success. Wolverine births are constrained to a brief period of the year and occur at an earlier date than other nonhibernating, northern carnivores. Our examination suggests that this timing is adaptive because it allows wolverines to take advantage of a cold, low-productivity niche by appending the scarce resources available during winter to the brief period of summer abundance. The wolverine’s bet-hedging reproductive strategy appears to require success in 2 stages. First, they must fuel lactation (February–April) with caches amassed over winter or acquisition of a sudden food bonanza (e.g., winter-killed ungulates); otherwise, early litter loss occurs. Next, they must fuel the majority of postweaning growth during the brief but relatively reliable summer period of resource abundance. The 1st stage is likely dependent on scavenged ungulate resources over most of the wolverine’s range, whereas the 2nd stage varies by region. In some regions the 2nd stage may continue to be focused on scavenging ungulate remains that have been provided by larger predators. In other regions the 2nd stage may be focused on predation by wolverines on small prey or neonatal ungulates. During all seasons and regions, caching in cold, structured microsites to inhibit competition with insects, bacteria, and other scavengers is likely a critical behavioral adaptation because total food resources are relatively limited within the wolverine’s niche. Habitat features that facilitate caching, e.g., boulders and low ambient temperatures, are likely important and could be related to the limits of distribution. This ‘‘refrigeration-zone’’ hypothesis represents a food-based explanation for the correlation between wolverine distribution and persistent spring snow cover. Understanding regional differences in foods that fuel reproduction and underlying causes to the limits of distribution could be important for maintaining wolverine populations in the future.

Published in

Journal of Mammalogy
2012, Volume: 93, number: 3, pages: 634-644

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG13 Climate action

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Fish and Wildlife Management
    Behavioral Sciences Biology

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