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Biodiversity: Study sheds new light on wolf predation

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Hunting wolves may have less of an impact on elk herds than previously believed. Photo via USFWS.

Three-year tracking project helps show that wolves alone aren’t necessarily responsible for declining elk populations

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — For quite some time, conventional wisdom has held that the presence of wolves in the Greater Yellowstone area has had beneficial impacts on the overall ecosystem by keeping elk on the move.

But a new study, led by recent University of Wyoming Ph.D. graduate Arthur Middleton, casts some doubt on that theory. For three years, the researchers closely followed the  Clarks Fork elk herd west of Cody, along with the wolf packs that prey on it. Continue reading

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Wildlife: Yellowstone’s migratory elk under pressure

Study indicates drought and predation is affecting reproduction

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This 1998 file image shows bull elk in the Lamar Valley in winter. Photo courtesy Yellowstone National Park/Jim Peaco.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Yellowstone’s migratory elk have been feeling the impacts of drought and increased predation by wolves and grizzlies  – two landscape-level changes with broad implications for conservation of migratory animals, according to a new study published in the journal Ecology.

The new study by the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit — a joint program involving U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Wyoming, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, describes a long-term decline in the number of calves produced annually by the Clarks Fork herd, a population of about 4000 elk whose migrants travel annually between winter ranges near Cody, Wyoming and summer ranges within Yellowstone National Park.   Continue reading

The subnivium, a secret world beneath the snow, is at risk from global warming

Declining spring snowcover will impact plants and animals use deep snow cover as a refuge from winter cold

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Spring snow cover in the northern hemisphere is in decline. Graphic courtesy Rutgers Global Snow Lab.

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Melting snow reveals the subniveal world.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Beneath winter’s deep snows there is a secret world of frozen insects and amphibians in quasi-hibernation, where small mammals scoot about eating bugs and fungi. It’s an ecoogical world that’s mostly invisible but functions as a critical part of larger ecosystems. The subnivium, as scientists have dubbed it, is now at risk from global warming.

Since 1970, snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has declined by as much as 3.2 million square kilometers during the critical spring months of March and April. Maximum snow cover has shifted from February to January and spring melt has accelerated by almost two weeks, according to a team of university researchers who set out to discover some of the ecological impacts of the loss of snow cover. Visit the Rutgers Global Snow Lab for more details on snow cover. Continue reading

Tracking global warming in Colorado’s alpine zone

Some alpine plants in Colorado are already feeling the heat of global warming, and researchers are trying to determine where the 'tipping point' might be. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

Long-term study aims to determine climate change tipping points

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Some alpine and arctic plants — including species found in the Colorado mountains —  are showing negative effects of warmer conditions, with lower survival at the southern edges of their range, according to University of Wyoming ecologist Daniel Doak.

Together with Duke University researcher William Morris, Doak is conducting a long-term research project to determine how these species respond to climate change. In most years the impacts to plant populations are balanced by stronger growth in other areas. But in the warmest years of the six-year study, both survival and growth of the plants fell.

The study is based on the assumption that, as the Earth’s climate warms, species are expected to shift their geographical ranges away from the equator or to higher elevations. While scientists have already documented shifts for many plants and animals, the ranges of others seem stable. Continue reading

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