The Cascades have a new female wolverine. She was camera-trapped in the Chiwaukum Mountains in the Weenatchee National Forest, about 100 miles northeast of Mount Ranier. DNA analysis suggests that she is not related to any of the wolverines yet recorded in the Cascades. The analysis also confirmed that, like other Cascades wolverines, her haplotype is C, which, in a 2007 study by the Rocky Mountain Research Station, was found only in wolverines from the Northwest Territories and Alberta, Canada. Here’s an excerpt from the project’s explanation of why the presence of this haplotype might be important:
Halotypes are a part of the DNA that can tell us a bit about the evolutionary history of the animal. All of the wolverines recorded in the North Cascades to date are halotype C. This halotype does not occur in the Rocky Mountains, where extensive genetic research has occurred on their wolverine populations. Because of this, researchers believe that our Cascades’ wolverine population comes from the north not the east, and that our Washington Cascades’ population is genetically unique from other US wolverine populations.
Look at a map, and this seems logical; the Canadian Rockies make a perfect travel corridor for wolverines dispersing into Washington. The fact that this wolverine is a female, at the southernmost tip of known resident wolverine distribution in Washington, is interesting, particularly if she is unrelated to other Cascades wolverines. Some people have suggested that female wolverines don’t disperse over the same distances as males, that they inevitably occupy territories as close to their mothers as possible; this wolverine might suggest that the hypothesis of more home-bound females is incorrect. It might also suggest that there are undetected wolverines in the Cascades, and that she is related to one of them. Either (or both) could be true. I’m curious about the haplotypes of the wolverines detected in northern Idaho, since they, too, could be easily influenced by animals from the Canadian Rockies, but are also in very close proximity to the Glacier population in Montana.
For people who enjoy the occasional visual of a wolverine, here’s a short video of a wolverine feeding on a brown bear carcass in Alaska. This is on a hunting site, and I had to endure an advertisement for four-wheelers before getting to the wolverine, but there’s some reasonable footage of the wolverine running, illustrating that unique gulo gait that might help you determine that you’re looking at a wolverine if you see one in the field.
For people looking for a consistent social-media stream of wolverine images, I’d also suggest “liking” the Scandinavian Lynx Project’s facebook page. In addition to images of wolverines, you’ll get some insight into how wolverines are interacting with the rest of their ecosystem in Scandinavia. And also, of course, don’t forget to “like” the Mongolian Wildlife and Climate Change Project’s facebook page, where updates on my own work in Mongolia will be posted.
note: In an earlier version of this post, I stated that this was the southernmost confirmed sighting in Washington. Wolverines have been confirmed near Mt Adams, which is further to the south – for some reason, I tend to confuse Mt. Hood, which is in Oregon, with Mt. Adams, which is in Washington. This wolverine has been sighted as recently as January of 2012. Thanks to Jocelyn Akins for some updated info on the Mt. Adams work.