|Reintroduced wolves do their part: an intact food chain buffers the impact of deteriorating environmental conditions (Photo: Dan Hartman)|
Average earth temperatures rose 0.6 °C over the last century, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But that increase pales in comparison to the 1.4–5.8 °C expected increase over this century. As temperatures climb, climate models predict that high-latitude, high-altitude regions like Yellowstone National Park will experience shorter winters and earlier snow melts. How these environmental shifts will impact species and ecosystems remains to be seen.
The effects of climate change are already evident at the species level, with disruptions in range, reproductive success, and seasonal phenomena like migration, and the decoupling of evolutionarily paired events like new births and food availability. Both experimental and data-driven modeling studies predict that climate change may well precipitate shifts in the structure of ecosystems as well.
In a new study, Christopher Wilmers and Wayne Getz investigated the effects of climate change on ecosystem dynamics by studying a keystone species in Yellowstone, the gray wolf (Canis lupus). Gray wolves inhabited most of North America until US extirpation campaigns nearly eradicated them by the 1930s. In 1995, the US Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced the persecuted predator into Yellowstone.
2005. Gray Wolves Help Scavengers Ride Out Climate Change. PLoS Biol 3(4): http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0030132
Fear and Loathing in Wolf Country