NOS Mission

Nevada Outdoor School inspires exploration of the natural world, responsible stewardship of our habitat and dedication to community.
This is the spot for us to share stories, fun ideas or general musings. When you aren't in here, we hope to see you out there!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Winnemucca’s Wildlife - Winter Weather Woes

You don’t have to look at the thermometer to know its COLD outside.  Winter is supposed to be cold… but this cold? For this long? 
Last Thursday, the heat at my house stopped working.  With temperatures for the coming nights forecasted below zero, it was a pretty big problem.  Luckily, thanks to the generosity of my co-workers (letting me borrow space heaters) and the wonderful timely response of the repair man, we were only in the cold for two nights and able to have some source of heat during that time.  However, it was still CRAZY COLD and made me realize how ill-adapted humans are to dealing with such harsh winter conditions.  It also made me think about the wildlife constantly exposed to these outdoor conditions and if they are well adapted enough to handle these temperatures. 
So I did some research…

I wanted to know if the winter conditions we have been experiencing this season are affecting animals in our area differently than typical winter conditions (duration of snow cover, ground frost, etc.).  Also, I was curious if this harsh winter will have a big impact on the typical amount of winter kill (animals deceased due to winter conditions) that occurs and how this will impact our desert ecosystem. 

I talked with a Biology professor at Great Basin Community College and a Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) employee.  What I learned was that all types of extreme weather conditions (heat and cold) put stress on wildlife.  The biggest issue with cold temperatures is an animal’s nutrition.  The low amount of rainfall we received this past year created poor foraging conditions for wildlife to prepare for winter.  There is no doubt that this prolonged cold is a stressor to animals.  However, there probably isn’t any increased stress on the subnivean (under the snow) environment.  For animals living above the snow, outside conditions dictate the rate at which they lose precious fat reserves.  Animals are using most of their energy to stay warm, making it hard to forage.  NDOW has also observed animals moving upslope because of the current temperature inversion, where higher elevations are warmer.  Basically, the amount of winter kill will likely be much more than usual and those animals that do make it through this winter are likely to come out of it in pretty poor conditions.  How this will affect our desert ecosystem is yet to be seen. 
Just things to think about….
Stay warm,


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