Beyond Humans: Mammalian Fights in Extreme Environments

The mountain goat moves on three bighorn rams; the goat later lowered its head and actively moved the sheep into a high-altitude patch of snow in Glacier National Park. Credit: Forest P. Hayes

A new study from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Colorado State University and the National Park Service points to previously unknown high-altitude competitions between two of America’s most sensational mammals – mountain goats and bighorn sheep – for access to minerals previously unavailable due to the past presence of glaciers which are now disappearing due to global warming.

The study also points to other coveted resources such as water and the shadow of the desert in brutal environments from Africa, Asia and North America; species in these extreme environments contest access to these biologically important resources, but such interactions have not previously been cataloged by individual species, their size or their “native” or “exotic” status.

“While humans continue to be rightfully concerned about the climate-induced chaos we are wreaking across the planet, much remains unknown about species aggression among our mammalian brothers,” said Joel Berger, lead author and senior scientist. for WCS and Barbara Cox – Anthony Professor of Wildlife Conservation at Colorado State University.

The results of this work were distilled from fragmentary information dating back some four decades and included different species such as marmots and baboons, oryx and elephants and rhinos, along with wild (i.e. wild) horses that replaced the native pronghorn, the mule deer. and moose from the desert waters.

The study revealed that mountain goats with their saber horns emerged victorious over bighorn sheep in more than 98% of races at three sites along a 900-mile gradient of mountainous habitat above the treeline from Colorado to Alberta. , in Canada. While mountain goats are a native species in northwestern North America, they are exotic in Colorado and Wyoming, including the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, where they have been introduced. Concerns there and elsewhere have focused on the extent to which goats can replace or outperform native bighorn sheep. Although it is not known whether interactions to access resources have increased over time as our climate degrades, human activity has both increased and decreased wildlife access to limited resources such as minerals and water through road construction and the creation of artificial water sources.

The study appears in the diary Borders in Ecology and Evolution. Co-authors, Mark Biel, chief biologist at Glacier National Park in Montana, and Ph.D. candidate Forest Hayes of the CSU, pointed out that high-altitude aggression between species, both passive and active, highlights the importance of limited resources, but it is known that both bighorn sheep and mountain goats will travel up to fifteen miles or more to access these limited resources. Desert elephants travel even more impressive distances, up to 40 miles, to drink from distant pools of water in Namibia.

“It was exciting to collect wind, snow and cold data on goats and sheep both in the glacier and in Mt. Evans, Colorado, which reaches over 14,000 feet,” Forest Hayes offered where “our observations from both close range and from distances greater than one mile provided unique opportunities to detect and understand ecological interactions. ”

Berger, Biel and Hayes suggest a possible role of the climate challenge through the depletion of groundwater in desert areas, but recognize that humans could be a more immediate threat as the use of water for people puts more and more at risk. the fragility of biodiversity in these systems. “If we can’t offer species other than ourselves a chance, we’re just cooking our fates along equally destructive paths,” Berger offered.

Associate partners and sponsors of this project were Colorado State University and the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Glacier National Park Conservatory, the Denver Zoological Society, the Denver Mountain Parks and Frederick Dulude-de Broin at LaVal University.

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More information:
Species conflict at the edge of the Earth: competitions, climate and coveted resources, Borders in Ecology and Evolution (2022). DOI: 10.3389 / fevo.2022.991714

Provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society

Citation: Beyond Humans: Mammalian Fights in Extreme Environments (2022, October 17) recovered October 17, 2022 from

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