I am en route to Oregon to help look into wolverine populations in that state. For the next three weeks I’ll be offline and out of touch – I can’t even express how much I’m looking forward to this.
In the meantime, I thought I’d leave readers with a few brief bits of gulo news:
A wolverine was caught on camera by WWF in the Russian Altai. These mountains are contiguous with the Mongolian Altai and whatever is going on with the wolverine population in Mongolia is undoubtedly tied to population dynamics in Siberia. So it’s great to have a quick glimpse, even if the bulk of the excitement in this particular article revolves around snow leopards.
A friend of mine pointed me to this Richard Nelson podcast about wolverines. It’s about half an hour long and discusses wolverine biology, and also some interesting Koyukon cultural beliefs about wolverines.
In a recent post about trophic cascades and the wolverine’s role in the ecosystem, I made some statements about wolverine habitat that are not necessarily universally true. Most of my personal experience with wolverines is in mountain ranges at the southern edge of the global range, and so I tend to default to an image of that habitat when I talk about them, and specifically to the Tetons, which is the wolverine-occupied range where I’ve spent the most time. This tendency ignores the bulk of their range in the boreal forests, not to mention variable conditions even between mountain ranges. So here are a few clarifications:
Wolverines do overlap with wolves and bears in significant portions of their range, and stories abound in Mongolia of wolverines following wolves and feeding on wolf-killed carcasses. In picturing the Tetons, where wolverines are up in the high, rocky peaks and wolf sign is more frequently seen in the valleys, I was picturing a system in which wolverines might, at certain altitudes, be the top predator. But this is unlikely to be consistently true even in the Rockies.
Wolverines are distributed across any landscape in very low densities, and are unlikely to prey on any single species to the extent that they actually have an effect on the population of that species. So saying that wolverines may be a top predator on mountain goats or bighorn sheep in a given area was again a mistranslation between an image in my mind, and science. Depending on what’s going on in a particular wolverine territory, a wolverine might kill a number of animals in a particular herd, but does this affect the overall population of the species? Probably not.
I’m also planning to write a follow-up post about why focusing on trophic cascades is not the only way to think about the value or function of a wolverine. So stay tuned. But in the meantime, I’m off to the mountains to stop speculating and start learning.