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Climate Change

Black Bears Active

Bears are emerging from hibernation a bit earlier than usual this year in Russia, Finland and the U.S. due to warmer temperatures.  The emergence of Black Bears from hibernation in the Northeast usually takes place next month, but they have already been active for several weeks, even in northern New England.

There is little food available to bears in April, but in March the situation is even more dire.  Therefore, bird feeders and human garbage are like bear magnets, so bring in your feeders and make your garbage inaccessible! The climate crisis is having a detrimental effect on wildlife — hibernation, migration and breeding cycles are intimately connected to the availability of food — and as a result of this out-of-sync timing, there will inevitably be more conflict between bears and humans.  (Photo: Black Bear scat filled with sunflower seeds from a bird feeder.  Thanks to Clyde Jenne and Bruce Locke for photo op.)

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Female Winter Ticks Dropping Off Moose & Laying Eggs

One of the many injurious effects of climate change is the increase in Winter Ticks (Dermacentor albipictus) due to warmer New England winters.  These parasites spend their entire lives living off of one host and they have had a major impact on the moose population, especially on calves. Research conducted by the University of New Hampshire over a three-year period found that moose calves suffered a 70 percent death rate as a result of winter ticks.

 

At this time of year, when moose are at their most vulnerable, adult female ticks living on them, most of which are gravid (the ticks), indulge in a “blood meal” that is unlike any of the meals that they take at any other stage of life. They feed for days, swelling to ten times their normal size before dropping to the ground and laying hundreds of eggs.  The snow where a tick-infested moose has laid down is often spotted with blood and engorged female ticks. It may be of some comfort to know that Winter Ticks rarely bite and feed on humans. (Photo: A moose calf that had been walking along a packed snowmobile trail laid down , leaving spots of blood from tick bites and many 1/2″-long engorged and egg-filled female ticks.)  Thanks to Kit Emery for photo op.

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Moose & Climate Change

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If predictions for the future of our climate are accurate, and if no significant measures are taken to counter it, one of the hardest hit animals in North America will be the Moose.  While well-adapted to winter conditions, Moose start experiencing heat stress when summer temperatures get above 57°F. Why this intolerance to heat?  A highly insulative coat, thick skin and low surface to volume ratio.  When faced with very warm summers, Moose start spending more time in the shade, in cool water and in locations with cooling winds. They also frequently move to higher elevations.  When it gets really hot, they stop foraging for food during the one season they have to bulk up.

Not only will their chances of survival during the coming winter be compromised as a result of this, but successful reproduction is far less likely. In addition, heat stress can cause lowered immune response which leaves the affected animals more vulnerable to disease and parasites such as winter ticks and brainworm. Adding to these challenges, the make-up of woody plant species in boreal forests will also be affected by warmer temperatures, which in turn will affect both the browsing choices and the availability of shade for Moose.

It is theorized that within the next 100 years temperatures will rise on average 9 – 13°F. in winter and 6 – 14°F. in summer (New Hampshire Fish & Game).  On top of that, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire are at the southernmost part of the Moose’s range. The future does not look bright for the largest member of the deer family in the Northeast.

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Don’t Let the Snow Fool You!

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The recent major snow storm in the Northeast inevitably confirmed climate change doubters’ convictions. However, dramatic swings in temperature are also part of the changing climate, and the overall trend is unquestionably one of shorter winters.

The U.S. Geological Survey says spring is showing up two to three weeks earlier than normal in the southeast United States this year, from Texas to Washington, and is making its way gradually north. This scientifically-proven phenology finding is based on flowering and leafing out times. In the Arctic, some grasses are flowering a month early, depriving hibernating animals of a crucial early-spring food source. Snowshoe hares and ermine are failing to molt their white winter coats before the world turns green, leading to less successful protection (and for the ermine, predation) for these animals. The climate scientists have it right, regardless of the white world outside our windows — New York City’s forecast is for the mid-60’s on Wednesday. Who knows what flowers we’ll find when the snow soon melts – perhaps the unfurling flower buds of Round-leaved Hepatic (pictured).

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Early Arrival Dates & Climate Change

3-4-16 A. robin IMG_8347As yesterday’s post indicated, the progression in which signs of spring appear remains much the same, but the timing of this progression is changing. Ornithologists have determined that modern climate change has resulted in an advancement of spring phenology throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

Many birds are arriving on their breeding grounds earlier in response to these changing conditions. Past research has focused on correlating climatic changes on breeding grounds with early arrival. However, it appears that climate variability on the wintering grounds of temperate species also plays a part in these short-distance migrants’ arrival on their breeding grounds.

Many climatic factors are involved in this phenomenon. The annual variation in temperature on the wintering grounds of American robins was found to be strongly related to their first-arrival date. Red-winged blackbirds’ first arrival dates were most influenced by precipitation during winter and spring months.

These and other changes in migratory patterns can have life or death consequences — birds arriving early on their breeding grounds face the possibility of adverse conditions and limited resources.

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Beavers To The Rescue

12-23-15 beaver dam & pussy willow IMG_5739With peepers peeping and pussy willows starting to poke their heads out of local willows in mid- late December, it is clear that in the coming years humans will need to adapt to the effects of climate change. Help with that mission may come from many sources, including beavers, whose landscape alterations have been shown to mitigate many of the more extreme conditions caused by climate change. Where beaver dams are persistent, they may sequester sediment and create wet meadows that can moderate floods, augment early summer baseflows, sequester carbon in soils and standing biomass, decrease ecological problems posed by earlier spring stream recession, and potentially help cool early summer and post-wildfire stream temperatures. (Jeff Baldwin, California Fish & Game) How fortunate that silk hats became fashionable in the early 1800’s, decreasing the demand for beaver pelts and rescuing beavers from extinction.


Spring Peepers Peeping

12-16-15 spring peeper IMG_7853The sound of a peeping Spring Peeper in December (yes, this occurred in Vermont this week) conveys to one and all that climate change is not a figment of our imagination. Amphibians are extremely sensitive to small changes in temperature and moisture due to their permeable skin and shell-less eggs. Certain species, including Spring Peepers, Grey Tree Frogs, Wood Frogs, American Bullfrogs and American Toads, are emerging and mating earlier in the year than they did historically. Causal relationships have been found between irregular climate conditions (drought, increasing frequency of dry periods and severe frosts) and decreasing (extinction in some cases) of certain amphibian species.

Behaviorally and physically, warming temperatures are having an impact on amphibians. A recent laboratory study investigated changes in amphibian metamorphosis time due to pond desiccation and whether amphibian immune systems become compromised as a result of these changes. They found that amphibian immune responses became increasingly weaker and white blood cell counts were increasingly lower with higher desiccation. As a result of climate effects, immune systems are weakened, making it more difficult for amphibians to fight off diseases.

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