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Habitat Boost: Warmer Temperatures Invite Moose and Snowshoe Hares To Alaska's North Slope

Nov 14, 2015 03:25 PM EST
Snowshoe hares and moose have recently moved to Alaska's North Slope.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

Snowshoe hares and moose are some of the many animals that can be seen bounding through the dense vegetation of Alaska's North Slope today. However, both animals are considered relatively new to the area.

So what prompted the animals' relocation? Over time, warming temperatures have gradually led to taller shrubs and thicker undergrowth, according to a recent University of Alaska Fairbanks study. Now the animals are taking advantage of the habitat boost and the North Slope's wooded plant cover. 

"If you double or triple the amount of habitat along a river, you might go from having no snowshoe hares and no moose to having them inhabit that corridor," Ken Tape, leader of the recent study and an assistant professor with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Water and Environmental Research Center, said in a news release

While hares weren't seen on the North Slope until 1977, moose appeared around 1930. The recent study provides evidence suggesting an ecosystem shift essentially invited the animals in recent decades. 

For their study, researchers examined recent climatic increases and river flow data. In doing so they found North Slope temperatures have steadily increased since the last 19th century. However, they also noted temperatures have been rising more rapidly since the 1970s, increasing the rate of snowmelt by an average of 3.4 days per decade. In turn, this has resulted in a lengthened annual growing season and taller shrubs. 

"If this change is as dramatic as we think it is, we should be seeing that through the lens of wildlife," Tape added

Their study was recently published in the journal Global Change Biology.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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