Impacts of snow compaction from human recreation on the biota of snowy regions

by Whiteman, John P., M.S., UNIVERSITY OF WYOMING, 2008, 74 pages; 1458688


In many regions of the world, snow cover is an important ecological factor. Animals traveling on the snow surface often sink into snow; this increases their energetic cost of travel, and ultimately affects their populations and communities. Snow cover creates a subnivean (below-snow) environment that protects many small animals and plants that would otherwise perish. Snow sports (e.g. snowmobiling, cross-country skiing) are increasingly popular, and they compact snow. In a chapter formatted for the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, I review previous studies indicating that compaction reduces growth, increases mortality, and alters community composition of subnivean plants, and that compaction decreases the density of small mammals in the subnivean environment. The mechanisms behind some of these negative effects are unclear. Compaction also creates trails of high-density snow that can facilitate the movement of animals traveling on the snow surface. Travel on compacted trails has not been compared between species that have different degrees of adaptation to snow. In a chapter formatted for the peer-reviewed journal Biological Conservation, I examined movement of animal species with different footloads (body mass˙foot surface area-1) on transects, before and after snow on transects was compacted. I also compared compacted trails created by different snow sports. Higher animal footloads were associated with animals following compacted transects more often, and for greater distances. Animal use of compacted trails could affect the distributions and interactions of species. Trails created by snowmobiling were wider than those created by snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, but all 3 snow sports caused similar increases in snow density. Where management is necessary to mitigate negative effects of snow compaction, options include limiting the temporal and spatial patterns of snow sports activity.

AdviserSteven Buskirk
Source TypeThesis
SubjectsEcology; Zoology
Publication Number1458688

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