One of the biggest things that can effect the health of your wildlife is something you have no power to control – the weather! So how do wildlife cope with it? Today we’ll find out!
Lets get started with a few definitions:
- Weather: The condition of the atmosphere at a particular place, and during a relatively short piece of time.
- Climate: Weather conditions experienced at a place over a long period of time.
Weather is a variable factor capable of producing large effects (both good and bad) on wildlife and habitat. Since it is relatively unpredictable, weather adds much uncertainty for a wildlife manager, therefore managers should review the weather records for their management areas!
There are two different effects of weather:
- Direct Effects of Weather: Wild animals are adapted to the weather conditions in their natural environment; however, weather extremes still cause problems. E.g., late snowfall and delaying of breeding and conception in cottontail rabbits
- Indirect Effects of Weather: Weather effects wildlife indirectly by restricting their movements, by destroying or making unavailable food and cover, and by influencing the abundance of competitors and/or predators. In many places snow depth and quality determines the distribution and habitat available to wildlife. E.g., “deer yards”
So how do wildlife cope? There are 5 different methods that animals use to survive the weather…
- Animals have insulation – an animals “winter coat” where hair and feathers trap air that act as an insulator.
- Huddling together – animals group together to conserve heat if they can find proper cover and habitat (e.g., quail)
- Animals remain active, resisting inclement weather. Depending on physical adaptations (e.g., moose musculature and stature, caribou feet), fat stores, or available season food (e.g., mast/acorns)
- Animals become dormant – dormancy is defined as a period of inactivity characterized by a lowering of certain body processes.
- Torpor is a form of dormancy characterized by a lowering of body temperature, decreased metabolic rate, decreased respiration, and decreased heart rate.
- Summer torpor (hot) = estivation (a period of inactivity in response to high temps, animals seem somewhat lethargic – e.g., desert ground squirrels)
- Winter torpor (cold) = winter lethargy (couple days) or hibernation (long period)
- When animals arouse from torpor, they must restore their body temperature all the way to normal before reentering torpor. In terms of energy, this can be very costly!
- Migration – animals move!
Knowing how your wildlife copes with weather will give you the tools as a manager to help facilitate their needs. Providing good cover and habitat is one of the best ways to make sure your animals survive! Next post we’ll cover how your wildlife will deal with some of the harshest weather out there – snow!