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Doctoral thesis, 2013

Wolverine ecology and conservation in the Western United States

Inman, Robert Michael

Abstract

Successful conservation of rare species requires an understanding of the niche, knowledge of the scale over which a viable population exists, and a system that provides adequate funding to take the necessary actions. I radio-marked wolverines in the Yellowstone Ecosystem and examined spatial ecology and reproductive chronology from an evolutionary perspective to better define the wolverine niche. I used a resource selection function to map habitat suitable for survival, reproduction, and dispersal; make a rough estimate of population capacity; and develop conservation priorities at the metapopulation scale. I developed an index of metapopulation dispersal potential to identify areas most valuable for connectivity and discuss the steps needed to conserve wolverines through the 21st century. Wolverines were limited to high elevations where temperatures were low, structure was abundant, and deep snow exists during winter. Persistence in these relatively unproductive habitats required large home ranges that were regularly patrolled, a social system that provided exclusive access to resources, low densities, and low reproductive rates. These characteristics are prevalent across the species range, suggesting wolverines are adapted to exploit a cold, low-productivity niche. Caching during all seasons in cold, structured microsites to inhibit competition with insects, bacteria, and other scavengers is likely a critical behavioral adaptation. Habitat features that facilitate caching/refrigeration may be crucial for reproductive success and distribution. In the western U.S., primary wolverine habitat exists in island-like fashion and is capable of holding an estimated 580 wolverines distributed across a 10 state area. I estimated current population size to be approximately half of capacity. Wolverines exist as a small, inherently vulnerable metapopulation that is dependent on successful dispersal over a vast geographic scale. Priority conservation actions include: 1) maintaining connectivity, particularly in the Central Linkage Region of western Montana; 2) restoration to areas of historical distribution that are robust to climate change, e.g., Colorado; and 3) development of a collaborative, multi-state/province monitoring program. These actions will require significant funding. The viability of the wolverine in the contiguous United States, a candidate endangered species threatened by indirect, habitat-related impacts caused by all of society, depends on a fundamental shift in the way conservation of non-game wildlife and habitat are financed.

Keywords

wolverine; yellowstone; metapopulation

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2013, number: 2013:4
ISBN: 978-91-576-7761-7
Publisher: Dept. of Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Authors' information

Inman, Robert Michael
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Ecology

UKÄ Subject classification

Zoology
Ecology

URI (permanent link to this page)

https://res.slu.se/id/publ/77519